Somatic Tinnitus

There are different types of tinnitus. People perceive upsetting and annoying noises in their ears or heads. No matter what its cause might be, any tinnitus becomes fast a quality-of-life issue.   

The most widespread version is subjective tinnitus. Roughly 90% of the cases are due to hearing loss resulting from damage to hearing structures and/or the hearing nerves. Only the patient “hears” or perceives the noises.

Then there is Somatic Tinnitus. This is a type of subjective tinnitus that is not related to hearing loss. The Greek word soma means body. And so, “somatic” ear noises originate somewhere in the body – mostly in the upper body areas. Issues related to head, neck, back, shoulders, cervical disc/spine and jaw can cause or “trigger” somatic tinnitus.

Underlying arthritis, stress, injuries, muscle strain, dental problems, TMJ and even bad posture can contribute to somatic tinnitus. There are interactions between the nerve pathways of body sensors and ear structures. It is believed that these interactions happen in the brainstem.

People with somatic tinnitus can change the loudness and the pitch of the noise(s) with body movements, such as certain neck or head moves or clenching the teeth etc. Two broad categories of somatic tinnitus are cervical tinnitus, due to head & neck area problems and TMD (Temporo-Mandibular- Disorder) tinnitus, often related to TMJ.  

That said, underlying chronic stress and tension caused by tinnitus related to hearing loss can contribute to an added somatic component. Of course, this worsens the already existing din.

Somewhere along the way, I got myself a good case of bruxism (teeth clenching). This causes jaw discomfort with often high pitched, pulsing tinnitus, which is very upsetting. Jaw relaxation exercises recommended by my dentist can make those extra sounds fade and even go away.

Get a Diagnosis

And so, not all tinnitus is the same. Tracking tinnitus can be quite frustrating. Yet, people need a diagnosis and an appropriate treatment and/or management plan.  Although most doctors start with professional hearing tests, it is important to know that not all tinnitus is related to hearing loss. So, be ready to provide a good history.

Somatic Tinnitus can be set off by physical triggers. It may aggravate tinnitus related to hearing loss. However, with a proper diagnosis and treatment, somatic tinnitus can be eased and maybe even eliminated. Depending on the case, interventions include physical therapy, massage & relaxation techniques, steroid injections, electrical nerve stimulation and even acupuncture.

In the end, what causes the ear din? Hearing loss? Somatic problems? Both? Something else? So many questions to be answered! This is why a medical opinion is needed because there is a lot to be sorted out in the interest of quality of life.


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