Tinnitus is often characterized by the perception of ringing, hissing, buzzing, thumping, beeping, or other noises in the ears in the absence of an external source. Because of this, tinnitus is often described as a “phantom” sound. It can manifest in one or both ears.
Tinnitus evaluations involve a series of tests to determine the underlying cause of the condition. Such tests may include an assessment of the individual’s medical background and lifestyle, hearing tests, or imaging studies (MRI or CT scans).
The goal of tinnitus evaluations is to identify any treatable underlying causes and to develop a personalized management plan to help alleviate symptoms.
How common is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a very common condition and is estimated to affect 50 million adults in the United States alone. According to the American Tinnitus Association, it is estimated that 15-20% of the general population experiences tinnitus to some degree, while 10% of the population experiences tinnitus that is severe enough to interfere with daily activities.
The risk of experiencing tinnitus increases with age, with older adults being more likely to experience tinnitus compared to younger individuals.
Classifications of Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be classified based on its origin or whether it is objective or subjective. Understanding tinnitus classifications is crucial in determining the cause of tinnitus and in choosing the best treatment options.
Objective or Vibratory Tinnitus
Vibratory tinnitus is caused by the movement of the blood vessels, muscles or bones. This type of tinnitus is often associated with pulsatile sounds or rhythmic beats that are synchronous with the heartbeat. Vibratory tinnitus is usually considered objective tinnitus, which indicates that the sound can be heard by an audiologist or a healthcare professional during examination.
Objective tinnitus is often associated with problems with blood flow in the vessels near the ear. In some cases, objective tinnitus can be treated by addressing the underlying physical problem.
Subjective or Non-vibratory Tinnitus
Non-vibratory tinnitus refers to tinnitus that is not caused by the movement of blood vessels, bones or muscles. This type of tinnitus is subjective and can only be perceived by the person experiencing it. It is often described as a ringing, buzzing, whistling, beeping, or hissing sound. Subjective tinnitus can be caused by a variety of factors, including hearing loss, stress, anxiety, exposure to loud noises, and certain medications.
Tinnitus evaluations help diagnose and assess the severity of tinnitus. These evaluations are performed by an audiologist or a hearing healthcare professional.
A thorough medical and hearing history will be carried out prior to any test or evaluation. It will then be followed by a physical examination of the ears, head, and neck. Some other tests may be performed to check a patient’s hearing ability and to rule out any possible underlying medical conditions that may be linked to tinnitus.
Pure-tone audiometry test
A pure-tone audiometry test is one of the most common tests used to evaluate tinnitus. This test measures a patient’s ability to hear various sound frequencies.
Tinnitus matching test
A tinnitus matching test requires a patient to indicate the loudness and pitch of the tinnitus in comparison to sounds generated by a tuning fork or other device. This helps audiologists identify the characteristics of the tinnitus and develop a highly-personalized treatment plan.
Tympanometry may also be included in the tinnitus evaluation. This test assesses the movement of the eardrum.
Otoacoustic emissions testing
This test measures the sounds generated by the inner ear in response to a sound stimulus.
Tinnitus evaluations entails more than just one test; it may be a combination of one or more tests as deemed necessary by the audiologist or attending physician.
What’s next after a tinnitus evaluation?
The next steps following a tinnitus evaluation will depend on the underlying cause and the severity of the symptoms.
Below are some common next steps that you can expect after a tinnitus evaluation:
- Monitoring: In some cases, tinnitus may recede on its own without any treatment. In such cases, an audiologist may recommend simple monitoring of symptoms to see if they improve or worsen over time.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy: This therapy involves wearing a device in your ear that generates low-level sound. This approach is usually combined with counseling to help you adjust to and ignore your tinnitus.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT can help manage stress and anxiety associated with tinnitus. This approach is especially helpful to those who are losing sleep or feeling extremely perturbed with tinnitus symptoms.
It’s worth noting that tinnitus is a complex condition. The best course of action will depend on the specific symptoms and addressing the underlying cause. This is why getting an accurate tinnitus evaluation is crucial in addressing tinnitus.
Tinnitus Evaluations at South County Hearing Services
Audiologists at South County Hearing Services are trained and skilled in providing tinnitus evaluations in Narragansett, RI.
Tinnitus doesn’t have to affect your quality of life. Our hearing experts are here to help!
Contact us today to schedule an appointment!