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NORD is very grateful to David J. Eisenman, MD, Associate Professor, Vice-Chairman & Residency Program Director, Chief, Division of Otology & Neurotology, Department of Otorhinolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, University of Maryland School of Medicine, for assistance in the preparation of this report.
Synonyms of Tinnitus
- Non-rhythmic Tinnitus
- Objective Tinnitus
- Rhythmic Tinnitus
- Subjective Tinnitus
- Muscular Tinnitus
- Pulsatile Tinnitus
Tinnitus is a common condition characterized by the perception or sensation of sound even though there is no identifiable source for the sound. Tinnitus is often referred to as a “ringing in the ears.” The sounds associated with tinnitus have also been described as hissing, chirping, crickets, whooshing, or roaring sounds that can affect one or both ears. Tinnitus is generally broken down into two types: subjective and objective. Subjective tinnitus is very common and is defined as a sound that is audible only to the person with tinnitus. Subjective tinnitus is a purely electrochemical phenomenon and cannot be heard by an outside observer no matter how hard they try. Objective tinnitus, which is relatively rare, is defined as a sound that arises from an “objective” source, such as mechanical defect or a specific sound source, and can be heard by an outside observer. The sounds from objective tinnitus occur somewhere within the body and reach the ears by conduction through various body tissues. Objective tinnitus is usually caused by disorders affecting the blood vessels (vascular system), muscles (muscular system) or certain nerves (neurological system).
The majority of cases of tinnitus are subjective. Objective tinnitus is far less common. However, a diagnosis of objective tinnitus is tied to how hard and well the objective (outside) listener tries to hear the sound in question. Because of this problem, some clinicians now simply refer to tinnitus as either rhythmic or non-rhythmic. Generally, rhythmic tinnitus correlates with objective tinnitus and non-rhythmic tinnitus correlates with subjective tinnitus. Specific forms of tinnitus such as pulsatile tinnitus and muscular tinnitus, which are forms of rhythmic tinnitus, are relatively rare. Pulsatile tinnitus may also be known as pulse-synchronous tinnitus. Properly identifying and distinguishing these less common forms of tinnitus is important because the underlying cause of pulsatile or muscular tinnitus can often be identified and treated.
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