Tinnitus is characterized by noises in the ear that don’t come from an external source. They can include whistling, ringing, crackling, popping, humming and various other sounds. Not only can tinnitus affect your hearing, but it can also affect you emotionally and may even cause you difficulty in sleeping. To determine whether your tinnitus is caused by hearing loss , your audiologist will put you through a series of typical hearing tests, along with a few that are more specific to evaluating tinnitus. They will start with a physical examination of your ears, checking to determine if there is excessive ear wax or an infection, which could cause hearing problems and temporary tinnitus symptoms. Then there are several types of tests used to measure what you can hear such as:
- Pure tone testing: this test measures your hearing across different frequencies and volumes and plots the results on a graph (an audiogram). Sounds at different pitches and different sound levels are played, usually using headphones or earbuds, and the patient indicates when they can hear a sound.
- Middle ear testing: checks the functioning of your tympanic membrane (eardrum) and the conduction bones to check the health of the middle ear. To test how well your eardrum functions, a small probe will blow air into your ear to see how it moves. Sound is used to test the muscle that protects your ear from loud sounds.
- Speech understanding: a test that measures how well someone can understand speech in both quiet and noisy environments. Hearing loss often affects the ability to hear and understand speech, which can make it difficult to socialize and do many everyday things.
- Otoacoustic emissions: this test uses a very sensitive microphone, which measures the movement of tiny hair cells in the middle ear.
- Movement test: the patient is asked to move in different ways and observe if the tinnitus symptoms change. Movements may include moving your eyes, clenching your jaw, moving your neck or moving your arms and legs. Any changes could help indicate whether there is an underlying cause to the tinnitus, which could possibly be treated to help relieve the tinnitus too.
- Pitch Match Testing: A pitch matching test is designed to help find the frequency of the sound that the patient is hearing..
Once we evaluate the possible cause and severity of your tinnitus, we can address management. Generally, most patients will not need any medical treatment for their tinnitus. For patients who are greatly bothered by tinnitus, they may use some masking techniques such as listening to a fan or radio which would mask some of their tinnitus. If a hearing loss is identified, hearing aids are often recommended to help with hearing with the added benefit of masking the tinnitus.