Jennifer Esse, a doctor of audiology, discusses the signs and symptoms of tinnitus, which may feel or sound like a buzzing, chirping, humming, ringing or roaring sound in the ears or head.
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Question: What is tinnitus? Jennifer Esse: Tini-tus or Ti-ni-tus both ways of pronouncing the words are correct is really a perception or a sound that you perceive to hear in your ears or your head. Question: What are the signs and symptoms of tinnitus? Jennifer Esse: Tini-tus or Ti-ni-tus may sound or feel like a buzzing, humming, ringing, roaring in severe cases, it may even sound like crickets are chirping. It's very important that the audiologist or doctor who is examining the patient complaining of tinnitus specifically ask what the sound is like whether it's in one ear, both ears, one more of a head sound. And as strange that sound some people do perceive it to be in the center of their head and not in their ears. So investigating the history behind it is very important. Question: What causes tinnitus? Jennifer Esse: Tinnitus maybe caused by several things primarily in my profession I see tinnitus being caused by hearing loss, especially sensory neural hearing loss, which is nerve damage to the tiny microscopic nerve endings in the inner ear. There is no exact way to measure where tinnitus is occurring. We don't have a test to specifically localize where in the ear or where in the brain it may occur, but that's the most common type of tinnitus is due to sensory or hearing loss. Secondary to that maybe tinnitus caused by a problem or a blockage in the outer or middle ear such as wax, a foreign body or an ear infection. People perceive tinnitus in ears that are infected or full of wax or foreign body. Question: Is all ringing in the ears considered to be tinnitus? Jennifer Esse: It is, any time you perceive a ringing or humming or buzzing that is labeled as tinnitus. After leaving a concert it's very common because of loud noise you may have experienced what we call a temporary threshold shift. That means a temporarily after the loud noise exposure your hearing has actually decreased. Most times that hearing comes back to normal within a day or two and the ringing as well will go away within a day or two, but as we talked about tinnitus is a symptom, so the symptom would be of the hearing loss that was cause by the loud noise at the concert. Question: How is tinnitus treated? Jennifer Esse: The treatments for tinnitus are still controversial, some of them are found to be effective only in about 50% of patients, but there are several things out there both on the market and via therapy that we can investigate in terms of treating tinnitus. Some of those may include medication, which only a doctor may prescribe. Other alternatives maybe alternative medicines such as biofeedback supplements, vitamins, herbal remedies, things of that nature and again a specialist or a doctor would be my recommendation to either prescribe or recommend that type of treatment and then audiologist now are trained and specialized actually becomes certified in tinnitus therapy. There are two specific therapies available that only audiologist may provide now. The first is called Tinnitus Retraining Therapy or TRT, another therapy is called Neuromonics, again there is a website to visit to find an audiologist in your area who is trained to carry out that therapy. These therapies are long-term. It is not an instant remedy and they cost money. They are not covered by health insurance. So you want to be very certain that this is going to be an appropriate therapy for you before you proceed. Question: Can tinnitus be debilitating? Jennifer Esse: It maybe in very severe cases we consider to be a psychological emergency. We've seen suicidal patients because of tinnitus yes. Question: Can I do anything to prevent tinnitus? Jennifer Esse: In terms of hearing loss being the cause of tinnitus, especially noise induced hearing loss being a primary cause for the tinnitus, yes, you can prevent hearing loss due to noise exposure if you protect your ears against noise, wearing either custom fitted hearing protection devices or HPDs is vital to preventing hearing los

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