Tinnitus is the medical term for a persistent buzzing or ringing in the ears. Some people with tinnitus experience it more like a clicking, hissing, or roaring sound. Sometimes tinnitus can be loud and sometimes it is soft. It can be high or low pitched, and be felt in one ear or both.
Over 50 million Americans experience some form of Tinnitus – about 15% of the general public – making it one of the most common health conditions in the country.
Tinnitus is a symptom of a wide range of underlying health issues
Although Tinnitus is mostly associated with age-related or noise-induced hearing loss, it may also be a symptom that is generated from over 200 different health disorders. Some of the common problems that can cause tinnitus are:
- Meniere’s Disease
- Blood circulation issues
- Brain tumors
- A head injury
- Impacted earwax
- Ear infections
Symptoms of Tinnitus
The symptoms of tinnitus are usually self-evident. The sufferer will begin to hear noises inside their head that are not coming from an external source. In some cases, tinnitus will come on slowly while in other cases, the onset of the noise will be instantaneous. Some people experience bouts or episodes of tinnitus that come and go while other people will hear the noise continuously for very long periods of time.
How to Diagnose and Measure Tinnitus
Doctors usually diagnose tinnitus based on the description of the symptoms that the person is experiencing.
Tinnitus itself cannot be measured but detailed questionnaires are usually administered to discover the affect that the issue is having on their life. In some cases, an audiogram may be conducted to rule out physical causes for the tinnitus.
As tinnitus is generally indicative of other underlying health issues, identifying tinnitus is a good first step towards diagnosing additional problems.
Approaches to Managing Tinnitus
The first step to managing tinnitus is to get a thorough check-up to identify and treat the underlying medical issues that may be causing it.
Once that is done, treating the tinnitus itself usually begins by avoiding loud sounds or noisy environments. Many people with tinnitus find a measure of relief by participating in talk therapy, particularly if the tinnitus is related to issues like stress and depression.
In some cases, hearing aids or sound generators may be recommended to try and disrupt the noises that tinnitus sufferers are hearing. Currently, there are no medications on the market to specifically address tinnitus.
Economic Impact of Tinnitus on People
Individuals with Tinnitus can suffer significant financial consequences, losing up to $30,000 per year due to health expenses, lost earnings and productivity. Severe or prolonged cases of tinnitus can have a significant negative impact on the sufferer’s ability to concentrate at work or school. Reduced productivity, loss of concentration, interference with sleep, higher stress levels, and depression certainly play a role in the ability of tinnitus sufferers to function at their job or school.
In 2015, a new form of tinnitus treatment known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was developed. This innovative therapy works by pulsing magnetic fields into the brain. These magnetic fields pass through the skull to affect neural (brain) activity. Already approved by the FDA as a treatment for depression, new research has shown that TMS can be effective in reducing or eliminating tinnitus in some patients.
The cost of TMS treatments vary by provider but usually are administered in short sessions over the course of two weeks.