Ringing, clicking, humming… these are all noises that people with tinnitus may hear in their ears. Tinnitus is more common than you may think — the U.S. Center for Disease Control estimates that about 15% of people, which is over 50 million people, have some level of tinnitus. But how is this condition diagnosed? Let’s take a look at what a general tinnitus exam may include and what kind of treatment options audiologists may recommend.

Diagnosing Tinnitus

During a tinnitus exam, the goal is to figure out the cause of the noises being heard. So an audiologist will generally examine the ears, head, and neck of the patient to test for possible causes. A hearing evaluation will consist of the patient sitting in a room wearing headphones. The hearing test will play sounds into the headphones to test which sounds can be heard and how well. Additionally, the audiologist will look into the ear to evaluate the physical health of the ear.

Along with the hearing test, a tinnitus evaluation may include a doctor testing movement of the eyes, jaw, neck, and limbs. This portion of the tinnitus exam can see if anything has changed over time and check for undetected disorders that may be causing the tinnitus.

Generally, the main causes of hearing impairment associated with tinnitus include a middle ear infection, abnormal bone growth, damage to the ear, and sudden deafness. But there may be other causes, which is why an in-depth exam is required so the doctor can recommend the best treatment option.

What Kind of Treatment Options Are Available?

Depending on the cause of the tinnitus, there are a few treatment options available. For some patients, medication may be the solution to lessening the sounds heard. However, medications can have adverse side effects and may not work for everyone. Instead of medications, some patients may try using noise-suppressing machines to drown out the noises. But most commonly, a doctor may recommend the patient try hearing aids. Using hearing aids can use sound amplification to help patients hear noises through the ringing and buzzing noises.

Tinnitus can be a very frustrating condition, especially if the overall ability to hear is impaired by the noises associated with the condition. But there are ways to at least lessen the symptoms of tinnitus. So if you or someone you know is experiencing any symptoms of tinnitus, make sure you talk to your doctor. Early diagnosis is key to starting the right treatment option so you can ensure the condition is lessened as much as possible.