Tinnitus is the subjective perception of sound in one or both ears in the absence of external stimuli. It can be frustrating and debilitating for patients. It rarely affects children but can affect adults of any age. It usually sounds like a high-pitched buzzing or ringing sound and is often worse in very quiet or very noisy environments. Up to 20% of the population may experience tinnitus at some point.
Almost any insult to the ear can cause tinnitus. Once the ear has recovered (e.g. from trauma or infection) the tinnitus often resolves, but may be present for several weeks. Hearing loss and noise exposure can cause tinnitus which persists but can be treated. Occasionally other problems within the inner ear or brain can cause tinnitus. These need to be excluded before treatment begins.
Tinnitus that is persistent, unilateral (one ear) or pulsatile (e.g. sounds like your heart beat) needs further investigation. Often an audiogram to test hearing will be performed. Certain patients may also be referred for an MRI scan.
Treatment is always available, so nobody should ever be told “nothing can be done”. Treatment depends on the cause but includes treating any hearing loss, as well as addressing stress, anxiety and depression which tend to exacerbate tinnitus.
Dr Levin can help you exclude some of the serious causes of tinnitus and assist you with managing your tinnitus, or making the appropriate referral for you.