Ringing in ears is not normal, yet very common. Tinnitus is the name for these head noises or ear ringing and nearly 36 million Americans suffer from this discomfort.
Tinnitus may come and go, or you may be aware of a continuous sound. It can vary in pitch from a low roar to a high squeal or whine, and you may hear it in one or both ears. When the ringing is constant, it can be annoying and distracting. Usually this type of tinnitus occurs with hearing loss, however in some instance tinnitus can exist without hearing loss
In some cases patients can hear their heart beat. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus. Pulsatile tinnitus can have a variety of causes.
Tinnitus most commonly is occurs with hearing loss. In cases in which the tinnitus is equal between the two ears and hearing loss is present in both ears, your physician may not suggest a further work up. In cases in which tinnitus is only on one side or hearing loss is not equal, an MRI may be ordered as occasionally tumors of the hearing and balance nerve may be responsible.
Pulsatile tinnitus can have a variety of causes. These include abnormalities of blood vessels, abnormal collection of blood vessels, middle ear muscle contractions, and conductive hearing loss by middle by problems, high blood pressure, inner ear abnormalities, and rarely tumors. In such cases several studies may be needed to evaluate pulsatile tinnitus. These include MRA and ultrasound of the neck to evaluate blood vessels, and CT scan to look at the inner ear and structures surrounding it.
In most cases, there is no specific treatment for ear and head noise. If your otolaryngologist finds a specific cause of your tinnitus, he or she may be able to eliminate the noise.
The following list of DOs and DON'Ts can help lessen the severity of tinnitus:
Can You Help Me Cope With Tinnitus?
Concentration and relaxation exercises can help to control muscle groups and circulation throughout the body. The increased relaxation and circulation achieved by these exercises can reduce the intensity of tinnitus in some patients. Enrolling in a tinnitus retraining therapy program may be of benefit.
Masking. Tinnitus is usually more bothersome in quiet surroundings. A competing sound at a constant low level, such as a ticking clock or radio static (white noise), may mask the tinnitus and make it less noticeable. Products that generate white noise are also available through catalogs and specialty stores.
Hearing Aids. If you have a hearing loss, a hearing aid(s) may reduce head noise while your are wearing it and sometimes cause it to go away temporarily. It is important not to set the hearing aid at excessively loud levels, as this can worsen the tinnitus in some cases. However, a thorough trial before purchase of a hearing aid is advisable if your primary purpose is the relief of tinnitus.
Tinnitus maskers can be combined within hearing aids. They emit a competitive but pleasant sound that can distract you from head noise. Some people find that a tinnitus masker may even suppress the head noise for several hours after it is used, but this is not true for all users.
In some cases of pulsatile tinnitus a source may be found. In these instances control of the problem may cause the pulsations to stop.