Tinnitus is often described as a ringing in the ears, but can also sound like hissing, buzzing, roaring, sizzling, clicking or other noise. Tinnitus can manifest as an acute symptom lasting just a few days, or a chronic or recurring symptom lasting weeks, months or years.
Tinnitus is a symptom of a wide range of health conditions, and it can occasionally point to a more serious problem that needs professional medical attention. This is why trying to identify a cause is important, even though it may not be possible.
During a tinnitus evaluation, a provider will typically administer:
- An in-depth review of your medical history
- A complete physical examination of your auditory system
- A pure tone and ultra-high frequency audiometry test
- Speech reception and word recognition tests
- An otoacoustic emissions test
- Additional tests, studies and evaluations
If you’re one of the five percent of Americans suffering from tinnitus that is “moderately to significantly annoying,” it’s a great idea to visit a hearing specialist for an evaluation. Our team of audiologists is equipped with many tools and strategies to help patients with tinnitus, but first we need to assess your condition.
What to Expect During an Evaluation
When evaluating a patient with tinnitus, we have several goals we hope to accomplish:
- Identify the underlying cause of your tinnitus symptoms
- Determine if your tinnitus is subjective or objective
- Evaluate how your tinnitus is affecting your speech reception
- Assess whether you’re experiencing hyperacusis (sound sensitivity)
- Pinpoint the frequency and loudness of the sound you’re hearing.
One of the goals of an evaluation is to rule out what is not causing your tinnitus symptoms. Some common causes include hearing loss, ear bone changes, inner ear disorders, blood pressure changes due to an underlying condition and even certain medications.
Hearing Assessments for Tinnitus
Audiometric evaluations for tinnitus typically focus on high frequency sounds between 2000 and 4000 Hz. An otoacoustic emissions test can provide a strong indicator for tinnitus as studies have found emissions can be diminished in those with tinnitus and hearing loss.
Questionnaires your provider may have you take include:
- Tinnitus Functional Index
- Tinnitus Handicap Inventory
- Tinnitus & Hearing Survey
Because tinnitus can be difficult to pinpoint, questionnaires can help to identify causes that a patient may not have considered. The Tinnitus Functional Index is designed to identify the impact of tinnitus on areas from sleep to the ability to relax. The Tinnitus Handicap Inventory can help determine the perceived impact tinnitus is having on a patient’s daily life.
Types of Tinnitus
Tinnitus only you can hear is called subjective. Subject tinnitus is the most common type and is often caused by ototoxic medications or one of many audiological, neurological, metabolic and psychological conditions.
Objective tinnitus is much rarer and the sound it causes can be heard by the patient and an outside examiner or observer. This type of tinnitus is often tied to underlying vascular or neurological problems.
If we can determine a diagnosis and address the condition causing your tinnitus, we may also be able to treat that condition and relieve your symptoms although tinnitus is not always treatable and may require management instead.
If we can’t identify a specific cause of your tinnitus, we will recommend other treatment options that can help you to manage and reduce your tinnitus symptoms.