Tinnitus

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a symptom in which a person hears sounds in one or both ears that are not present outside the body. Nearly 50 million American suffer from some degree of tinnitus with two million experiencing severe and debilitating symptoms.

There are two types of tinnitus. They are:

  • Subjective tinnitus is tinnitus that only the patient can hear and is the most common.
  • Objective tinnitus is tinnitus that a doctor can also hear when they examine the ear. This type of tinnitus is very rare.

What are the signs of tinnitus?

Signs of tinnitus include hearing noises such as ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking and hissing. The noise can range from a low roar to a high squeal. Severe cases of tinnitus can cause an inability to concentrate or hear actual sounds. This noise can be present all the time or come and go.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus can be primary or secondary. Primary tinnitus denotes that the sound is not known to be caused by an underlying condition such as sensorineural hearing loss. Secondary tinnitus is caused by an underlying condition such as:

  • Meniere's disease
  • TMJ disorders
  • Head or neck injuries
  • Obstructions in the middle ear
  • Tumors of the head or neck
  • Blood vessel disorders
  • Medications including over the counter and prescription

What is the treatment for tinnitus?

The most effective treatments for secondary tinnitus include treating the underlying condition that is causing the symptom. Learning to manage and reduce the burden of primarily tinnitus is an effective way to improve quality of life. 

Therapeutic sounds and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have been proven to be effective in managing tinnitus. Other tips for managing tinnitus include:

  • Reduce exposure to extremely loud noise
  • Avoid total silence
  • Decrease salt intake
  • Monitor one's blood pressure
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine
  • Exercise
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Manage stress
  • Educate yourself

Tinnitus Services at Northwestern University

The Center for Audiology, Speech, Language and Learning at Northwestern University offers services for tinnitus management. Through a tiered level approach, our tinnitus program teaches individuals how to manage their tinnitus and achieve improved quality of life. Since every individual and case of tinnitus is unique, our program offers a personalized approach to tinnitus management.

If you or someone you care for is suffering from tinnitus, please contact our center at 847-491-3165 to schedule an evaluation.

Center for Audiology, Speech, Language, and Learning
Northwestern University
2315 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208
847-491-3165
nucasll@northwestern.edu