Tinnitus, the perception of sound in the absence of an external sound, usually results from a disorder of: (1) the auditory system (usually peripheral, rarely central); (2) the somatosensory system (head and neck); or (3) a combination of the two. Its cause can be determined through its characteristics. The history must include the tinnitus': (1) quality (including whether it can ever be pulsatile or have a clicking component); (2) location; (3) variability; (4) predominant pitch (low or high); and (5) whether the patient can do something to modulate the percept. In addition to the standard neuro-otologic examination, the exam should include inspection of the teeth for evidence of wear, listening around the ear and neck for sounds similar to the tinnitus, palpation of the craniocervical musculature for trigger points, and probing whether the tinnitus percept can be modulated with "somatic testing." All subjects should have a recent audiogram. Presently the most compelling tinnitus theory is the dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) hypothesis: both the auditory and somatosensory systems converge upon and interact within the DCN. If the activity of the DCN's somatosensory-interacting fusiform cells exceeds an individual's tinnitus threshold, then tinnitus results.
Keywords: diagnosis; hearing loss; hyperacusis; mechanism; pulsatile; somatosensory; treatment; vascular compression.
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