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What can I Expect During a Tinnitus Test?

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  • Written By: Patrick Lynch
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2016
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Tinnitus is a condition involving a a constant ringing in a patient’s ears. A tinnitus test consists of visiting a physician known as an otolaryngologist who specializes in dealing with ear, nose, and throat ailments and undergoing a sequence of hearing tests. The test usually begins with an audiogram and also includes x-rays and a maskability exam.

Patients are deemed to have tinnitus when they hear a ringing sound in their ears in the absence of any external sound. It is not actually a disease; instead it is a symptom which could come from a range of other causes such as a wax build up in the ear. Tinnitus is a common complaint; those between the ages of 55-65 seemingly are most at risk with over 20% in that demographic suffering from it.

An audiogram is also commonly referred to as a hearing acuity test which produces a chart measuring a person’s ability to hear sounds as well as the capacity to distinguish between different noises. An effective means of measuring tinnitus is by using the brain’s capacity to only hear the loudest sounds. An audiogram plays sounds that have a known amplitude and the patient is asked if he or she can hear it. This tinnitus test is a good method of discovering the severity of the tinnitus.

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X-rays are also used in order to determine if there are any physical problems within the ear which could cause tinnitus. For example,an X-ray may discover an abnormality in the veins and arteries in the head which could lead to turbulent blood flow in the ear region. This leads to increased pressure causing the sound of blood pumping to be heard in the ear. This condition is know as pulsatile tinnitus and can only be discovered through X-rays. A Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT) scan or a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan could also be performed depending on the patient’s condition.

Another tinnitus test that patients often undergo is a maskability exam; this is designed to determine the impact of external sounds on tinnitus and how these sounds could be covering up the condition. A masking noise is emitted which drowns out the noises connected with tinnitus. This noise is increased until the patient can hear it. This level is then recorded. The otolaryngologist will continue this particular tinnitus test by increasing the masking sound to a level where the patient can no longer hear the noises made by the condition.

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irontoenail
Post 3

@pleonasm - It's a fairly delicate mechanism and I would guess there are a variety of different things that could go wrong, from the brain, to the nerves, to the cells to the ear canal. We tend to think of the things we hear as being solid, inviolable information, but it's actually the interpretation of sound waves and it's hardly surprising that sometimes our brains will get it wrong.

Unfortunately, in many cases tinnitus treatment is fairly limited because we either don't understand the cause properly, or there's simply nothing doctors can do. But I've heard that they are pretty close to being able to regenerate the cells of the ear drum, which could mean that they could do something to help some people with this condition.

pleonasm
Post 2

@MrsPramm - I've also heard that ringing in the ears is sometimes caused when a person is going deaf and the brain is trying to compensate for the silence by filling it with the equivalent of static. There are a few good books on this subject where they have listed cases of people who didn't hear ringing, but hallucinated other kinds of noise when they started going deaf, pointing to the fact that it's a brain problem rather than an ear problem.

MrsPramm
Post 1

The cause of tinnitus is often damage to the receptive cells in the ear so they think they are receiving sound when they actually aren't. Think about how you might hear a buzz in your ears after a very loud concert and it's something like that.

In fact, going to a very loud concert is one of the ways that you can gradually damage your ears so that you end up with this condition. The cells are so sensitive that if you pound them with noise over a period of years (for example, at loud concerts, with loud headphones, with construction noise at work and so forth) they will eventually die away. This is apparently the fate of a lot of musicians, because they just can't escape the noise in their profession.

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