Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries commonly result from motor vehicle collisions, slip and fall accidents, and physical assaults.

Symptoms may include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Dizziness, vertigo, difficulty with balance
  • Blurred vision
  • Nosebleeds
  • Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Numbness, tingling
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Fatigue
  • Tinnitus, also known as ringing in the ears
What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus occurs when a person hears a sound where there is no external noise present.  It is also referred to as “phantom noise.”  Tinnitus is not a disease, but a symptom of a physical or mental medical condition.  Although it is most often described as “ringing” in the ears, the noise may be a high-pitched whine, buzzing, humming, hissing, screeching, squealing, whistling, swishing, clicking, chirping like crickets, roaring like an ocean tide, music, or human voices.

The sound may be constant or intermittent, loud or soft, high or low pitched, and may occur in one or both ears.

How common is tinnitus?

It is estimated that between 40 and 50 million Americans experience some form of tinnitus.  It occurs more frequently in men, and in individuals over the age of 60.  It is often associated with hearing loss.

How serious is it?

In most cases, ringing in the ears is temporary and only a minor annoyance, with little or no effect on a person’s daily activities and functioning.  However, in more extreme cases, tinnitus is permanent and seriously affects hearing, sleep, concentration, focus, attention, mood and the ability to converse in person and by phone.  Approximately one in five people who have tinnitus experience these more significant problems.

What causes tinnitus?

The most common cause of tinnitus is exposure to loud noises, such as amplified music, heavy machinery, power equipment, gunfire and explosions.

The second most common cause is physical injury to the head, neck and ears.  Even in relatively low speed motor vehicle collisions, concussions and traumatic brain injuries occur when a person’s head impacts with something inside the vehicle.  These types of injuries may cause damage to the auditory center of the brain, as well as the structures and nerves in the inner ear, causing tinnitus.  Likewise, whiplash injuries, when the trunk of the body is pushed forward and the neck and head are thrust backwards, can damage the brain, spinal column and jaw, also resulting in ringing of the ears.

Tinnitus may also be caused by age, wax buildup in the ear canal, hereditary conditions such as otosclerosis, abnormal inner ear pressure (known as Menieres disease), brain tumors, hypertension, arterial and vascular diseases, ear infections, migraine headaches, overuse of caffeine or nicotine, stress, depression, anxiety, and other psychological conditions.

How is tinnitus treated?

There is no known medical cure for tinnitus, but diagnostic and treatment options do exist.  If the condition persists for several months, it is recommended that a sufferer consult with a specialist in ear related conditions, such as an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor), or audiologist.   Hearing tests, also called audiograms, may determine whether there is hearing loss associated with tinnitus.

If the ringing or other noise appears to be related to head or neck trauma, diagnostic tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), CT scans, and electroencephalograms, may be used to pinpoint the cause and determine appropriate treatment.

Some tinnitus patients report improvement or resolution of the condition with removal of excess ear wax; acupuncture; biofeedback; targeted nerve stimulation; meditation and other relaxation techniques; medication for anxiety, depression or hypertension; changes in diet; and the elimination of caffeine, alcohol or nicotine.  As loud noise can cause or increase tinnitus, patients are encouraged to reduce exposure to such noises or wear hearing protection as needed.

Even if the offending noises cannot be eliminated, there are techniques available to mask them.  Devices similar to hearing aids can produce sounds or impulses to block out the ringing.  Background music, electric fans, white noise machines and other sounds can help, especially when trying to fall asleep.  Counseling may also be of benefit, both to cope with the condition and to determine if there is a psychological aspect to it.

Tinnitus is a very real and, often, very debilitating condition. Help is available.