by Moshe Ephrat, M.D., F.A.C.S.
Tinnitus refers to noises or sounds heard in the ears. It may sometimes be described as ringing, buzzing, pulsatile, or hissing. Tinnitus only refers to the symptom and does not describe a cause. Many people have experienced tinnitus that can sometimes be brief and self limiting or at times be continuous and persistent.
There are many different causes of tinnitus. One of the most common could be blockage of the ear canal with cerumen (ear wax) or congestion of the Eustachian tube from recent air travel, allergies or an upper respiratory infection. However, less commonly it may be a sign of more significant underlying condition. Permanent age related or noise induced hearing loss, Meniere’s disease, brain tumors, medications and vascular conditions may cause tinnitus. Pulsatile tinnitus refers to sounds that are like pulsations mimicking your heartbeat.
Seeing your ENT physician is your first step in evaluation and treatment. Your ear canals will be cleaned and then you will likely require a hearing test to determine if you have any nerve related hearing loss. If your tinnitus is one sided and persistent – an MRI of the brain and ears may be required to rule out any tumors or other issues behind your eardrum.
Treatment for tinnitus may involve using appropriate hearing aids that have built in tinnitus maskers to cancel out the sounds you hear. Independent tinnitus maskers are devices that generate sound that will help mask the tinnitus. Over the counter medications are available that claim to offer a remedy for tinnitus, however, none have any scientifically proven results.