Tinnitus is a noise perceived within the ears or head of an individual; it is inaudible to others. The elderly, those exposed to prolonged periods of noise and individuals with hearing loss are most commonly affected. Tinnitus can be categorized as buzzing, humming, hissing, pulsing, ringing or whistling, with the volume ranging from mild to all-consuming.
Both the intensity and duration of tinnitus episodes can fluctuate, but are often influenced by exposure to noise, stress and stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine. The impact of tinnitus is largely measured by the individual’s perception of the symptoms and how they affect quality of life from sleep and mood to memory and the ability to concentrate.
Tinnitus indicates a problem within the auditory framework and an assessment by a doctor or other qualified health care professional is recommended if symptoms persist for more than 24 hours. Though elusive, potential causes include loud noise, hearing loss, impacted ear wax, head injuries, infections, medications, thyroid issues, allergies and high blood pressure.
The first course of action is to treat the underlying condition or manage the associated source. Next, any hearing loss should be addressed and corrected by hearing aids. Evidence does not support the use of medications. However, if drug therapy is selected, realistic outcomes should be discussed, along with the duration of therapy if no significant improvement is noted.
The following practices are not curative, but may help diminish symptoms: Limiting exposure to loud noise through avoidance and ear protection, limiting consumption of both caffeine and nicotine, using sound to mask the tinnitus, counselling and stress management techniques.
Heather Langille (B.Sc. Pharm, CGP) is a practicing pharmacist in Toronto, Ontario with a pharmacy degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.