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What is Tinnitus? Understanding the Ringing in Your Ears

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Posted Mar 30th, 2016 in Articles, General

What is Tinnitus? Understanding the Ringing in Your Ears

Tinnitus, a largely undiagnosed and unknown condition, refers to noises heard in one’s head or ears that are not caused by an external sound source. Tinnitus, and the resulting health outcomes, can be debilitating for many. The Medical Station, opening in North York in Spring 2016, offers medical expertise and support for those suffering from tinnitus.


What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus itself is not a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying condition or problem – some of which are more easily addressed and remedied than others. Dr. Pawel Jastreboff, a leader in tinnitus research, has described the condition as “phantom auditory perception”. Tinnitus refers to the noises or sounds one hears in his or her head or ears that are not the result of an external source.

Though it is most commonly described as a high-pitched ringing, one may experience tinnitus as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, or chirping noise. Tinnitus varies in volume greatly for each individual – for some it is barely audible, for others it is extremely loud and disruptive to daily functioning.

As many as 360,000 Canadians suffer from tinnitus, with roughly 42% reporting a significant decrease in quality of life as a result. For some individuals, tinnitus is constant, while others may only be affected intermittently. Pulsatile tinnitus is a specific type of tinnitus where the noise the affected individual hears in their head or ears resembles the rhythm of one’s heartbeat. 

What Causes Tinnitus?

As we already explained, tinnitus usually arises as a result of an underlying condition or problem. There are a number of things that can lead to tinnitus, though the underlying physiological mechanism remains poorly understood, and for many individuals, the cause of tinnitus may never be determined. 

Tinnitus may be the result of any of the following:

  • Disorders of the outer ear – this may include excessive ear wax build up, a foreign object in the ear, or a perforated ear drum
  • Disorders or conditions in the middle ear – this may include an ear infection, the presence of a benign tumor, or the stiffening of middle ear bones
  • Disorders or damage to the inner ear – this includes damage from noise exposure and aging related hearing loss, as well as Meniere’s disease
  • Trauma to head or neck, such as whiplash
  • Certain medications, including certain anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, and antibiotics
  • Chronic conditions such as high or low blood pressure, diabetes, or vascular disorders
  • Pulsatile tinnitus results from a change in blood flow to the vessels near the ear, which may be caused by a number of different factors. For more on pulsatile tinnitus, click here.

Symptoms & Health Effects of Tinnitus

For some, tinnitus may occur without accompanying symptoms or effects. For others, however, there are numerous health and psychosocial effects that result from, or accompany, tinnitus. 

These may include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Reduced productivity
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Decreased hearing ability
  • Vertigo and dizziness
  • Pressure/pain around the ears
  • Extra sensitive hearing

The Medical Station Offers Support for Those Affected by Tinnitus

While there is no cure for tinnitus, there are a number of management options for those affected. If you or your loved one many be suffering from tinnitus, make an appointment to see one of our Family Physicians. Our Family Physicians will assess your symptoms, try to identify the underlying cause of the tinnitus, and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Depending on the cause of your tinnitus, clinic physicians may be able to treat the root cause.

If further medical care and testing is required, as is often the case, The Medical Station has an extensive network of audiologists and ENTs around North York and the city for referral. Hearing specialists will be able to advise on certain treatment options, including Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TNT) or sound therapy, such as using white noise generators. 

While The Medical Station does not offer treatment for tinnitus, our clinic offers support and care for the psychosocial challenges you may be facing as a result of tinnitus. Our on-site Social Worker is available for counselling in coping with the stress and anxiety you may be experiencing as a result of tinnitus.

Our on-site Registered Dietitians are equipped to work with you to explore strategies for changing your diet to reduce the severity of tinnitus (certain foods, such as salt and caffeine have been shown to increase the severity of tinnitus in sufferers). Our on-site Yoga & Meditation Therapist offers individual and group classes that promote relaxation, meditation, and stress management – all of which have been correlated with reduced severity of tinnitus.

The Medical Station Addresses Tinnitus in North York

We have heard too many stories of individuals and their families being told by the medical community that there is nothing that can be done about tinnitus. In our minds, this is an insufficient answer for such a debilitating condition. At The Medical Station, we are centred on care and education, and we encourage our patients to always feel free to come to us with any concerns or questions medically, socially, or emotionally related.

We are dedicated to working with you and supporting you in managing your tinnitus and the resulting health wellness challenges you may be facing. Opening in North York in Spring 2016, The Medical Station looks forward to providing resources, care, and a supportive space for those suffering from tinnitus.

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