Is your ear ringing? It might be tinnitus, know details here

Tinnitus is a symptom that something is wrong in the auditory system, which includes the auditory nerve, among other parts.

Tinnitus is commonly described as a ringing in the ears, but it also can sound like roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing. It may be soft or loud, high pitched or low pitched. You might hear it in either one or both ears. Roughly 10 per cent of the adult population has experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year.

It’s not a condition in and of itself. Instead, it can be a symptom of a medical condition or another issue. For many people, though, tinnitus appears on its own and isn’t accompanied by other symptoms or issues.

Although the sounds are audible within the ear, there’s no external source of the sounds. For this reason, the sounds of tinnitus are also known as phantom sounds.

Tinnitus can be frustrating. Sometimes, the sounds of tinnitus can interfere with other sounds around you. In addition, anxiety and stress can aggravate tinnitus, which can make everything feel worse.

You may experience tinnitus in one ear or both ears. People of all ages can develop tinnitus, but it’s more common in older adults.

Types of tinnitus

Tinnitus can be either objective or subjective.

When other people can also here the noises within the ears, it is objective tinnitus. It is a very rare form of tinnitus.

Subjective tinnitus is much more common. The noise is isolated to the person who is suffering from the condition. No outsider can hear this noise.

Pulsatile tinnitus is one form of subjective tinnitus. It may result from abnormal blood vessels in and around your ears. The sounds may have the same rhythm as a person’s heartbeat.

Causes of tinnitus

It is a symptom that something is wrong in the auditory system, which includes the ear, the auditory nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain, and the parts of the brain that process sound. Something as simple as a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal can cause tinnitus. But it can also be the result of a number of health conditions, such as:

  • Noise-induced hearing loss
  • Ear and sinus infections
  • Diseases of the heart or blood vessels
  • Ménière’s disease
  • Brain tumors
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Thyroid abnormalities

Tinnitus is sometimes the first sign of hearing loss in older people. It also can be a side effect of medications. More than 200 drugs are known to cause tinnitus when you start or stop taking them.

Rare causes include aneurysms and palatal myoclonus (muscle spasms in the roof of the mouth).

Medications that cause tinnitus

Medication use can also cause tinnitus and hearing damage. This is known as ototoxicity (ear poisoning).

These medications include:

  • very large doses of aspirin
  • loop diuretic medications, such as bumetanide (Bumex)
  • antimalarial drugs, such as chloroquine
  • certain antibiotics, such as erythromycin (Eryc, Ery-Tab) and gentamicin
  • certain anticancer drugs, such as vincristine

Noise-induced hearing loss can happen in people who work in noisy environments, such as factory or construction workers, road crews, or even musicians. On-going exposure to noise damages tiny sensory hair cells in the inner ear that help transmit sound to the brain.

Service members exposed to bomb blasts can develop tinnitus if the shock wave of the explosion squeezes the skull and damages brain tissue in areas that help process sound

Treatments for tinnitus

Tinnitus does not have a cure yet, but treatments that help many people cope better with the condition are available. Most doctors will offer a combination of the treatments below, depending on the severity of your tinnitus and the areas of your life it affects the most.

  • Hearing aids often are helpful for people who have hearing loss along with tinnitus. Using a hearing aid adjusted to carefully control outside sound levels may make it easier for you to hear. The better you hear, the less you may notice your tinnitus. Read the NIDCD fact sheet Hearing Aids for more information.
  • Counseling helps you learn how to live with this condition. Most counseling programs have an educational component to help you understand what goes on in the brain to cause tinnitus. Some counseling programs also will help you change the way you think about and react to your tinnitus. You might learn some things to do on your own to make the noise less noticeable, to help you relax during the day, or to fall asleep at night.
  • Wearable sound generators are small electronic devices that fit in the ear and use a soft, pleasant sound to help mask the tinnitus. Some people want the masking sound to totally cover up the ringing in ears, but most prefer a masking level that is just a bit louder than the sound. The masking sound can be a soft “shhhhhhhhhhh,” random tones, or music.
  • Tabletop sound generators are used as an aid for relaxation or sleep. Placed near your bed, you can program a generator to play pleasant sounds such as waves, waterfalls, rain, or the sounds of a summer night. If your tinnitus is mild, this might be all you need to help you fall asleep.
  • Acoustic neural stimulation is a relatively new technique for people whose tinnitus is very loud or won’t go away. It uses a palm-sized device and headphones to deliver a broadband acoustic signal embedded in music. The treatment helps stimulate change in the neural circuits in the brain, which eventually desensitizes you to the tinnitus. The device has been shown to be effective in reducing or eliminating tinnitus in a significant number of study volunteers.
  • Cochlear implants are sometimes used in people who have tinnitus along with severe hearing loss. A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged portion of the inner ear and sends electrical signals that directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The device brings in outside sounds that help mask the sound and stimulate change in the neural circuits. Read the NIDCD fact sheet Cochlear Implants for more information.
  • Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs might be prescribed by your doctor to improve your mood and help you sleep.
  • Other medications may be available at drugstores and on the Internet as an alternative remedy for this, but none of these preparations has been proved effective in clinical trials.

How to prevent tinnitus

There are a few steps you can take to help prevent this condition.

  • Try to protect your ears from loud noises.
  • Keep a close eye on the volume levels of your television, radio, and personal music player. Wear ear protection around noises louder than 85 decibels (dBA)Trusted Source, which is the noise level associated with city traffic.
  • Cover your ears if you’re surrounded by loud music or construction noise and you don’t have proper ear protection (such as earplugs).
  • In addition, avoid medications that may cause your tinnitus symptoms to recur.
  • Also, schedule regular hearing tests with a doctor so they can promptly detect and diagnose any structural problems in your inner or middle ear.
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