Diagnostic approach to patients with tinnitus.


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Abstract

Tinnitus, a common symptom encountered in family medicine, is defined as the perception of noise in the absence of an acoustic stimulus outside of the body. Because tinnitus is a symptom and not a disease, its underlying cause must be determined to best help patients. Although tinnitus is often idiopathic, sensorineural hearing loss is the most common identified cause. It can also be caused by other otologic, vascular, neoplastic, neurologic, pharmacologic, dental, and psychological factors. More serious causes, such as Meniere disease or vestibular schwannoma, can be excluded during the evaluation. History and physical examination of the head, eyes, ears, nose, throat, neck, and neurologic system guide subsequent evaluation. Almost all patients with tinnitus should undergo audiometry with tympanometry, and some patients require neuroimaging or assessment of vestibular function with electronystagmography. Supportive counseling should begin during the initial evaluation to help patients cope with tinnitus. Counseling may also improve the chances of successful subsequent treatment.

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