Tinnitus (pronounced TIN-uh-tus) is a condition in which noises that are not actually present in the environment are heard. Many people describe tinnitus as a high-pitched ringing sound. In most cases, these sounds are subjective, meaning only the person with tinnitus can hear them. Rarely, tinnitus is “objective” and can be heard by the doctor as well as the patient. Tinnitus is usually perceived to be louder in quiet environments or at night, when the brain is not focused on something else and external sounds that distracts the person from tinnitus are at a minimum. During the day, tinnitus is often masked by external sounds, such as the TV or traffic noise. Tinnitus can be bothersome enough to cause depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.
Primary tinnitus makes up the majority of cases of tinnitus, where no cause can be found aside from hearing loss. Secondary tinnitus is associated with an underlying cause which may be treatable. Examples of conditions that can cause secondary tinnitus are ear wax, infection, trauma, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, or medications. Depression, anxiety, insomnia, stress, and fatigue can cause or worsen existing tinnitus. Oftentimes, the exact cause cannot be found.
When a specific cause for tinnitus can be identified, your ENT doctor may be able to offer treatment to address the underlying issue. Although there is no “cure” for tinnitus, there are several treatment options that can help; ask your ENT doctor for more information.