Ringing, Buzzing, or Humming – What is Tinnitus and What Can You Do?
There are two types of tinnitus. Subjective and objective tinnitus.The most common form of tinnitus is subjective tinnitus which accounts for most tinnitus cases. It is the perception of noise in the ears or head in the absence of external noise. Put simply, it is a noise only the person with tinnitus can hear, which can vary in loudness, pitch, and frequency. Objective tinnitus is the less common type of tinnitus. This is sound that can be heard by others or during a physical examination by your GP. This is an extremely rare type of tinnitus and may be caused by a blood vessel problem, a middle ear bone condition or muscle contractions. If you suffer from objective tinnitus you should consult with your GP as soon as possible for treatment and medical intervention. Tinnitus is the symptom of an underlying cause and is difficult for any one test to detect. There is a huge amount of variability in personal responses to the presence of tinnitus. For some people, tinnitus is a non- bothersome, low volume sound in the background and for others the sound is loud, intrusive, emotionally unsettling and can impact their ability to function on a day-to-day basis. As such, Tinnitus testing requires a tailored approach. Tinnitus testing often requires a battery of individual subset tests to help identify and help you habituate to the noise. Whilst there is no simple cure, like taking a tablet, your audiologist works with you to help uncover the possible trigger for your tinnitus. This helps to understand how it is affecting your life and provide you with tools and strategies to help habituate to the noise over a period of time. In simple terms, habituation refers to the ability to learn to tune out non-essential stimuli and focus on the things that really demand attention. By paying less attention to tinnitus sound, the sound becomes less and less bothersome and reduces the burden. Tinnitus tests require a combination of assessments to assess the hearing pathways as well the individual’s thinking patterns and psychological impact of tinnitus on their life.
Tinnitus tests often include:
- A thorough examination of the ear to ensure there are no barriers to the hearing pathway i.e., wax, infections, bony growths, fluid etc.
- An assessment of the hearing through audiometry testing. The three parts of the ear: outer, middle, and inner ear are assessed.
- In some cases, MRI testing may be recommended to ensure no abnormal anatomical, underlying medical pathologies such as inner ear tumours which may be responsible for the tinnitus.
- An assessment of the clarity of the hearing through speech discrimination tasks.
- A quality-of-life questionnaire to determine the burden on the individual’s quality of life
- Sound stimulation whereby certain sounds are played in the affected ear to determine if the patient is less or more aware of their tinnitus.
What Are Possible Causes of tinnitus?Causes of subjective tinnitus may include but are not limited to the following:
- Head/neck/spine trauma
- Hearing loss
- Ear wax build up
- Certain medication use
- Neurological diseases- such as Multiple Sclerosis, growth of acoustic neuromas
- Middle ear pathology- such as ear infections, Eustachian tube dysfunction
- Meniere’s disease
- Temporomandibular joint disorders
- Psychosocial issues- sleep disturbance, anxiety/depression, stress etc