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If you have ringing, buzzing, whistling, or whooshing sounds in one or both ears, you’re probably one of the millions of Americans affected by tinnitus.
For some people, these unwanted sounds are annoying yet temporary. But for many others, they’re a persistent and overwhelming problem that makes it hard to hear, communicate, concentrate, and sleep. This can lead to feelings of frustration, stress, or depression, especially if you don’t seek medical care.
Fortunately, University of Iowa Health Care is home to some of Iowa’s leading tinnitus experts, including audiologists and otolaryngologists.
If your symptoms are related to an underlying medical condition, such as acoustic neuroma, we’ll help you pinpoint the cause—and treat it.
And if your tinnitus has no known cause, we’ll draw on our years of experience to help you find relief. Together, we’ll create a treatment plan that allows you to cope with your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
What is tinnitus?
With tinnitus, you hear sounds that aren’t caused by an outside source (no one else can hear them). These sounds may be soft and easy to ignore, or they may be so loud they interfere with your ability to hear.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus doesn’t always have a specific cause.
Tinnitus can accompany hearing loss but can also be a symptom of a different health problem. In many cases, there’s no clear reason why someone develops tinnitus.
Tinnitus often occurs in individuals who have:
- Allergies (frequent congestion can block the tube that connects your middle ear and the back of your nose)
- Abnormal bone growth inside the middle ear (otosclerosis)
- Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis)
- Chronic exposure to loud noise
- Earwax buildup
- Head injuries
- Hyperacusis (heightened sensitivity to sound)
- Ruptured eardrum
- Medication side effects (certain drugs used to treat infections or cancer can harm your inner ear)
- Medical conditions such as labyrinthitis or Meniere’s disease
- Temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ (your jaw muscles are next to muscles and nerves that connect to your middle ear)
- Tumors that grow on your auditory nerve (acoustic neuroma)
Call your provider if you have tinnitus that is accompanied by neurological symptoms like trouble balancing or walking. These could be signs of a more serious condition.
If you’re experiencing tinnitus for the first time—or you haven’t found relief elsewhere—schedule an evaluation with a UI Health Care audiologist.
Our audiology team can perform (or order) tests to help determine the severity and cause of your tinnitus.
Depending on your medical history and symptoms, you may have one or more of the following:
- A physical exam to check for visible problems inside your ears
- Hearing tests that measure your ability to hear certain tones, volumes, and pitches, or distinguish speech from background noise
- Tympanometry tests to check for problems with your middle ear and eardrum
- Imaging tests, such as a CT scan or MRI scan, to look for tumors or structural problems in your head
Tinnitus treatment from UI Health Care
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment for tinnitus, help is available. Our team will work with you for as long as it takes to find the right therapies.
Treating your underlying condition
In some cases, we can relieve your tinnitus by treating the condition that’s causing it.
For example, if your tinnitus is caused by otosclerosis—abnormal bone growth in your middle ear—your provider may recommend a surgery called stapedectomy. After this procedure, which replaces the abnormal bone with an artificial device, your tinnitus may improve or go away.
Our audiologists or otolaryngologists can refer you to other UI Health Care specialists who should be involved in your care.
Even if we can’t determine the cause of your tinnitus, certain treatments can help. We offer a range of options that may make your symptoms less noticeable—and your quality of life much better. These include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
A national leader in tinnitus education
Our providers don’t just treat patients with tinnitus. They also help other medical professionals stay up to date on the latest treatments.
More than 30 years ago, a UI Health Care audiologist created one of the first medical conferences devoted to tinnitus evaluation and management. Today, this annual event draws audiologists, otologists and neurotologists, hearing aid specialists, and other providers from across the country.
Attendees learn about new research and treatment strategies related to tinnitus. Then they bring that information back to their own patients.