Tinnitus: Common, Constant, Treatable, and Manageable
Tinnitus sounds different to everyone, so it makes sense that there are four different types: subjective, objective, neurological, and somatic. Tinnitus is a fairly common medical malady that presents in a variety of ways. Simply defined, it is a phantom ringing, whooshing, or buzzing noise in your ear that only you can hear.
Hearing Things? No, You’re Not Crazy.
People experience tinnitus in a variety of ways: in some, a simple head shake will make the annoyance vanish; others, however, describe the condition as debilitating. Though research is ongoing, currently there is no cure. But relief can comes from a variety of treatments.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Typically the cause of tinnitus is uncertain. If there is no damage to the auditory system, your provider will look into these possible causes:
- Jaw joint dysfunction (TMJ)
- Chronic neck muscle strain
- Excessive noise exposure
- Certain medications
- Wax buildup
- Cardiovascular disease
- A (generally benign) tumor that creates a strain on the arteries in the neck and head
The Four Different Types of Tinnitus:
- Subjective tinnitus: The most common form of tinnitus. Subjective symptoms can only be heard by the affected individual are usually caused by exposure to excessive noise. This type of tinnitus can appear and disappear suddenly, and may last 3–12 months at a time. In some severe cases, it may never stop.
- Neurological tinnitus: Usually caused by a disorder, such as Meniere’s disease, that primarily affects the brain’s auditory functions.
- Somatic tinnitus: Related to the sensory system. This form is caused, worsened, or otherwise related to the sensory system.
- Objective tinnitus: A rare form of tinnitus that may be caused by involuntary muscle contractions or vascular deformities. When the cause is treated, the tinnitus usually stops entirely. This is the only form of tinnitus that can be heard by an outside observer, and the only type that has the potential for a permanent fix.
- Musical tinnitus: Also called musical hallucinations or auditory imagery, this type is less common. Simple tones or layers of tones come together to recreate a melody or composition. Musical tinnitus tends to occur in people who have had hearing loss and tinnitus for some time, though people with normal hearing or increased sensitivity to sound can also have musical hallucinations.
- Pulsatile tinnitus: A rhythmic tinnitus that aligns with the beat of the heart. It usually indicates a change of blood flow to the vessels near the ear or an increase in awareness of the blood flow to the ear.
- Low-frequency tinnitus: Perhaps the most confusing type of tinnitus because sufferers aren’t sure whether the sound is being produced internally or externally. Often, the tones correspond to the two lowest octaves on a piano and are described as a humming, murmuring, rumbling, or deep droning. This type of noise seems to affect people most strongly.
Tinnitus can be managed through strategies that make it less bothersome. No single approach works for everyone, and there is no FDA-approved drug treatment, supplement, or herb proven to be any more effective than a placebo. Behavioral strategies and sound-generating devices often offer the best treatment results — this is partially why distracting the individual’s attention from these sounds can prevent a chronic manifestation.
Some of the most effective methods of tinnitus management are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Tinnitus retraining therapy
There are countless treatment options, but they vary in effectiveness depending upon the type of tinnitus. More than 50 percent of those who experience tinnitus have an inner-ear hearing impairment, meaning that a connection between tinnitus and hearing loss is likely. Though wearing hearing aids helps ease tinnitus (they amplify the sounds outside, making the “inside” sounds less frequent), they are not the only method: careful diagnosis by a professional with years of experience creating solutions for tinnitus sufferers is essential.