Tinnitus is a physical condition, experienced as noises or ringing in the ears or head when no such external physical noise is present. It is usually caused by a fault in the hearing system; it is a symptom, not a disease in itself.
Tinnitus is thought to affect 50 million Americans. It usually occurs after the age of 50 years, but children and adolescents can experience it, too.
Common causes are excessive or cumulative noise exposure, head and neck injuries, and ear infections. It can occasionally indicate a serious underlying medical condition.
Most people with chronic tinnitus adjust to the ringing over time, but 1 in 5 will find it disturbing or debilitating.
For some, it can lead to insomnia, difficulty with concentration, poor work or school performance, irritability, anxiety, and depression.
Tinnitus is a non-auditory, internal sound that can be intermittent or continuous, in one or both ears, and either low- or high-pitched.
The varying sounds have been described as whistling, chirping, clicking, screeching, hissing, static, roaring, buzzing, pulsing, whooshing, or musical.
The volume of the sound can fluctuate. It is often most noticeable at night or during periods of quiet. There may be some hearing loss.
The first step is to treat any underlying cause of tinnitus.
This may involve:
- prompt care for an ear infection
- discontinuing any ear toxic medications
- treating any problems, which affect the joint between the jaw bone and the cheek bone.
Tinnitus: Current Medical Breakthrough Treatment?
Scientists at the University of Michigan have developed a non-invasive technology to treat tinnitus, in most sufferers, by training the brain to separate noises and to only respond to real sounds. Their approach involves stimulating touch sensitive nerves using electrodes attached to the skin. Concurrently, the machine produces sounds, heard through headphones, that coordinate with the electric skin stimulation. This depresses sounds in the inner ear and reduces tinnitus symptoms.
Watch the videos below to see how this treatment works: