Tinnitus: Merely Annoying or Impending deafness?
February 9, 2010 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Tinnitus: Time to see the doc or no?

Ear health question, that I probably don't need a doctor to answer:

This post assured me that tinnitus is common— that much we generally know.

I've always had a little bit of ringing in the ears, but lately, it's gotten more frequent, up to three or four times a day. Also, a weird deaf/muffled-ness that had previously only happened perhaps once every few months has become more frequent too— up to two or three times a week. Oh yeah, the periods of muffled/deafness/ringing aren't becoming longer, just more frequent.

Ok. Now, it could be stress. It could be the nice Bose headphones that I just got (and use responsibly, not loudly). Or it could be that the years of metal shows I frequented as a youth are now returning to haunt me.

Tell me: am I descending into a world of silence, and should probably see the doctor? Or am I just noticing intermittent tinnitus for the first time, and should probably brush it off?
posted by functionequalsform to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd go to a doctor, but maybe start out with a regular doctor if it's cheaper for you. It could just be wax.

If it is in fact tinnitus, there's actually not much a doctor can do for you.

And if you still go to concerts, wear ear plugs.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:59 AM on February 9, 2010

If you're a smoker, you might want to quit. There's a major link between hearing loss and cigarette smoking.

If you have bona fide sensorineural hearing loss, it's unlikely to be intermittent as described. Some type of cerumen buildup is a real possibility as a plug could shift and induce such symptoms. That said, if at all possible, see an ear-nose-throat doctor and get this checked out. Tinnitus is common, but so are a host of other conditions, most of them benign. There are, however, some more sinister possibilities, so it's prudent to seek help before things get worse. Good luck.
posted by kinnakeet at 12:09 PM on February 9, 2010

If you're taking aspirin, you might want to stop. Salicylates can cause tinnitus, and so can the quinine in tonic water, and some antibiotics. I've noticed it myself when taking Pepto-Bismal.
posted by Ery at 12:17 PM on February 9, 2010

Tinnitus due to loud music concerts (like mine) is irreversable, or so say the several ENTs that have evaluated me. If it was the metal shows, be prepared to be disappointed.

You should still see a doctor, because absent permanent nerve damage there are things that you can do. But don't get your hopes too high up.

And 2nding earplugs, especially "ETYMOTIC RESEARCH ER20BP High Fidelity Ear Plugs"
posted by Gorgik at 12:46 PM on February 9, 2010

No, not a world of silence; a world with a new constant companion, one who will need accommodation.

Seconding that doctors won't have much help. But they will have advice on coping, and strategies to reduce the severity of the symptoms. So go, get tested, and do your best to follow these strategies. The most common recommendations are to reduce stress, eat well, get exercise, etc. But tinnitus isn’t a uniform disorder. It has varying symptoms, causes and intensities, and different types respond to different therapies. But some things apply to tinnitus in general. Here are a few things that I've been collecting for myself:
  • Don't give up your morning coffee (if you drink it.) It could make things worse.
  • Get tested for allergies. I have no cite for this, but I notice when I eat foods to which I am sensitive, the tinnitus invariably shoots up.
  • If your tinnitus affects your ability to fall asleep, get a white noise generator or use the sleep button on your alarm to fall asleep to noise. There are also special pillows that some have recommended; I haven't tried them.
  • Find the frequency of your ringing; in future you may be able to take the music you enjoy and have it filtered to remove frequencies that correspond to your specific tinnitus range. Recent studies show that listening to this filtered music can reduce tinnitus volume. This is one I'm waiting for anxiously; casual music listening has been ruined for me for some time now.
  • Find forums to see what others are doing to manage their condition.
  • Don't give up hope; research is being done at many levels, and new treatments are being studied.
Good luck, and take care of yourself.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 12:48 PM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all the advice, guys. I'm currently Googling around to find an Ear, Nose, and Throat doc. I'll keep you all posted!
posted by functionequalsform at 1:56 PM on February 9, 2010

Can you explain your tinnitus in a little more detail? For example, many if not most people who experience tinnitus experience it as a constant ringing sound, even if that sound may vary in loudness or pitch or whatever. When you say it may happen up to three or four times a day, do you mean that there is usually no ringing but then ringing occurs for a discrete period of time?

How loud is the ringing and how long does it last? Does the "muffled/deafness" feeling also happen intermittently and, if so, does it immediately precede the ringing? How long does it last?

These are all important questions for figuring out what is going on. What you are describing doesn't sound much like the kind of tinnitus which occurs from loud music to me.
posted by Justinian at 3:23 PM on February 9, 2010

Correct. Both are intermittent— the deaf/muffled-ness and the ringing last for about 5 - 10 seconds, (which can feel like forever) and don't seem to be correlated whatsoever.

Deaf/muffled-ness: two or three times a week. (Previously, once every few months).
Ringing: Three to four times a day. (Previously, maybe once or twice a week.)

Both are accompanied by a bit of dizziness (Nothing major, just a bit of "whooooa").

Like I said, the duration of both is fairly normal to what I've experienced in the past (when I actually notice it), but it's the frequency of the little episodes that kinda weirds me out.
posted by functionequalsform at 3:54 PM on February 9, 2010

Dizziness? Or vertigo? The distinction is important. I'm not being picky, any doctor worth his or her salt will likely ask you the same thing.

In any case it's good you're seeing a doc. There are a ton of things that could cause the tinnitus and AskMe can't do a differential diagnosis on you. I would guess the most likely result is "we don't see anything, good luck" but there are certainly a lot of causes they can fairly easily rule out.
posted by Justinian at 4:05 PM on February 9, 2010

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