What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is any sound a person hears that doesn’t come from an outside source. Many people describe it as a ring, hiss or thump. The most common reason for tinnitus is hearing loss, but other health conditions and medications can cause tinnitus. Most of the time tinnitus isn’t serious, but if it comes on loudly and suddenly it should be reported to an Audiologist, your primary care doctor or an ENT.
Tinnitus is sometimes described as a phantom noise and reported as humming, ringin, roaring, clicking, buzzing or hissing. It is important to note if the sound is constant or occasional, what noise you have been around in the immediate past, what new medications, including over the counter drugs and what you have consumed for food and drinks. The two types of tinnitus, subjective, where you are the only person hearing the sound and objective, where the sound can actually be heard or measured by a trained audiologist. Subjective is the most common type of tinnitus.
When should you see an audiologist?
When you first notice is the best time to see an audiologist. There are specialized and specific tests that specialized audiologists can do to document the tinnitus. Going over your health history, medication use and lifestyle is also critical in understanding your tinnitus. Many times it is a somewhat annoying but not health threatening condition. There are rare times that tinnitus can be contributed to different types of tumors and blood vessel issues, but again this is rare. You should see one of these specialists immediately if dizziness accompanies the tinnitus as well. Come see us at Oro Valley Audiology for any tinnitus issues or ringing in your ears.
Hearing loss is the most common cause but other causes include but not limited to:
- Noise exposure
- Kidney Disease
- Thyroid Disease
- Meniere’s Disease
- Pain relievers
- Arthritic medication
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Alcohol use
Blood Vessel Disorders and Tinnitus
If the tinnitus is pulsating in nature then it is possible the tinnitus is from a blood vessel disorder. This can be caused by plaque build up in the arteries close to your inner ear, head or neck tumors, untreated or poorly treated high blood pressure, irregular blood flow in the carotid artery and arteriovenous malformation (AVM) where the connections between arteries and veins are not functioning properly. Many of these conditions will have the pulsatile tinnitus in just one ear.
Medications and Tinnitus
There are many medications that can cause or worsen tinnitus. Any time medication changes the blood flow in the body, there is a higher chance of tinnitus. Many of these include;
- Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen
- Water pills or diuretic such as Lasix (furosemide) Bmex (bumetanide) or Edecrin (ethacrynic)
- Antibiotics, many of these end with mycin and should be looked up and if there is already a hearing loss have the physician chose a different antibiotic, unless life threatening condition requires a certain antibiotic. Another common antibiotic is Cipro that has a higher chance of tinnitus.
- Cancer medications or chemotherapy drugs such as Cisplatin and Trexall (methotrexate)
- Some Antidepressants
- ACE inhibitors many that end in -il such as lisinopril, enalapril, ramipril
- Anti-Anxiety Drugs such as Xanax, Valium and ativan
- Smoking with any tobacco product
What Risks Increase Chances of Tinnitus
The highest risk factor for tinnitus is noise exposure. This is a preventable condition most of the time as long as you carry hearing protection in your purse, car or wallet! Age increases your chance for tinnitus and this can be due to a variety of reasons such as increased hearing loss as we age, we are on more medications and our health/circulation changes. Men are more likely to have tinnitus than woman, this can be due to higher risk of noise exposure. Smoking also changes our circulation and increases our chance of tinnitus.
Keep your yearly appointments with your primary physician and have your annual blood work done. Keep active and move everyday! Treat your health conditions and follow your doctor’s orders. Use hearing protection when you are exposed to loud noise such as shop tools, music concerts, firearm usage, construction tools (such as chainsaws and jack hammers) and loud machinery. And lastly watch the volume with your music! If you listen to your music at high levels for long period of time, you may be happier in the short term, but your hearing loss will separate from what you love down the road.
How long does tinnitus last?
If a ringing or whistling sound that happens 5 minutes or less up to twice a week is called transient ear noise, not tinnitus. If it happens more or constantly then this is defined as tinnitus. Many describe as a ringing, chirping, roaring or cricket type sound.
What is the most effective treatment for tinnitus?
If a hearing loss is present, then tinnitus therapy (which there are different types) and or appropriate fitting of hearing aids is the best treatment. Tinnitus happens with a hearing loss due to the damage in the auditory system and hearing aids help in about 60% of those fit. If there are more complex therapies such as tinnitus programs, biofeedback or meditation beyond hearing aids your Audiologist will discuss this with you along the journey. If you have a hearing loss, hearing aids are extremely beneficial including a less stressful life which in turn can help you tinnitus. A very thorough case history with all the medications and health conditions will also help pinpoint the reasons for tinnitus.
Is tinnitus serious?
It can be in some rare cases. We have helped diagnose acoustic tumors and cardio-vascular issues before your primary care. We work closely with other medical professionals to put the puzzle pieces together for an accurate diagnosis. Most of the time tinnitus is due to a hearing loss, but occasionally especially with sudden onset tinnitus without a reason, you should see a professional right away. If tinnitus is accompanied with sudden hearing loss or dizziness you should be seen within 24 hours to an Audiologist (make sure you state you suddenly have these symptoms) or an Ear Nose and Throat. Most Urgent care or Emergency room specialists do not treat appropriately and assume it is an infection and treat with antibiotics, the proper treatment is specialized steroids administered within 48 – 72 hours of onset.