(Source: Boystown Research Registry)
Tinnitus is the medical term for "ringing in the ears", although it can include other sounds besides ringing. For example, some people hear hissing, buzzing, clicking, or throbbing sounds; or hollow sounds, like listening to a seashell. There are a number of causes of Tinnitus, ranging from genetic types of hearing loss to muscle spasms to medications. There are two basic categories of Tinnitus: subjective Tinnitus, which is produced within the auditory system itself, and objective Tinnitus, which is caused by something outside of the ear.
Subjective Tinnitus is more common, and is often associated with hearing loss. The most common causes of the hearing loss are noise exposure or presbycusis, the hearing loss that comes with age. These people often have high-frequency hearing loss, and the sound they hear is usually at the same frequency where their hearing is the worst. People with otosclerosis or Meniere´s disease (with episodes of dizziness, hearing loss and a feeling of fullness in the ears) often have Tinnitus, and it can also be related to allergy, middle ear disease, high blood pressure, abnormal thyroid levels or hyper-lipidemia (high fat levels in the blood). Some injuries may cause Tinnitus, and aspirin is a well-known cause. Other medications can also cause Tinnitus, and some doctors may recommend that a person with Tinnitus also quit smoking and avoid caffeine.
With objective Tinnitus, a person is actually hearing another part of their body, such as blood vessels which can produce a throbbing sound, or a muscular contraction of the palate which can produce clicks. Sometimes the doctor can also hear the sound. The treatment is then directed at whatever is causing the sound.
Tinnitus, then, is a symptom of a number of conditions that affect hearing, and cannot be used as an indication of the cause of hearing loss. In addition, people with the same condition may not all have Tinnitus; for example, two people may have the same type of noise induced hearing loss, but perhaps only one will have Tinnitus. In some cases, the Tinnitus decreases or goes away by itself, but in others, treatment may be needed to try to get rid of it or to "mask" it with other sounds. In other cases, no treatment is available. If Tinnitus is severe enough to be disturbing, a doctor can help determine if there is an appropriate treatment.
(1981) Tinnitus. London: Pitman.
(1983) Textbook of Otolaryngology. Philadelphia: Lea and Fegiger.
Leonard, G., Black, F.O., Schramm, V.L.
(1983) Tinnitus in Children. In Pediatric Otolaryngology, Vol. 1, C.D. Bluestone, S.E. Stool, S.K Arjona, Eds. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders.
(1991). Management of the Patient with Tinnitus. Medical Clinics of North America 75: 1225-1237.
Date Originally Created: Spring of 1992.
The information presented here first appeared in publications of the Boys Town National Research Register for Hereditary Hearing Loss, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), Hereditary Hearing Impairment Resource Registry (HHIRR), or the Boys Town Research Registry for Hereditary Hearing Loss.
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The Boys Town Research Registry for Hereditary Hearing Loss (Registry) is designed to foster a partnership between families, clinicians and researchers in the area of hereditary hearing loss/deafness through three primary functions. First, the Registry disseminates information to professionals and families about clinical and research issues related to hereditary deafness/hearing loss. Second, the Registry collects information from individuals interested in supporting and participating in research projects. This information is used to support the third function of the Registry - matching families with collaborating research projects.
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