Tinnitus (pronounced tih-NITE-us or TIN-ih-tus) is when you experience ringing or other noises in one or both of your ears.
The noise you hear when you have tinnitus isn’t caused by an external sound, and other people usually can’t hear it.
Don’t get scared as tinnitus is a common problem that affects about 15 per cent to 20 per cent of people, and is especially common in older adults.
Tinnitus could be as a result of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, an ear injury or a problem with the circulatory system. For many people, tinnitus improves with treatment of the underlying cause or with other treatments that reduce or mask the noise, making tinnitus less noticeable.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Prolonged exposure to loud sounds is the most common cause of tinnitus. Up to 90 per cent of people with tinnitus have some level of noise-induced hearing loss. The noise causes permanent damage to the sound-sensitive cells of the cochlea, a spiral-shaped organ in the inner ear. Carpenters, pilots, rock musicians, street-repair workers, and landscapers are among those whose jobs put them at risk, as are people who work with chain saws, guns, or other loud devices or who repeatedly listen to loud music. A single exposure to a sudden extremely loud noise can also cause tinnitus.
A variety of other conditions and illnesses can lead to tinnitus, including:
- Blockages of the ear due to a build-up of wax, an ear infection, or rarely, a benign tumour of the nerve that allows us to hear (auditory nerve).
- Certain drugs, most notably aspirin, several types of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, loop diuretics, and antidepressants, as well as quinine medications; tinnitus is cited as a potential side effect for about 200 prescription and non-prescription drugs.
- The natural aging process, which can cause deterioration of the cochlea or other parts of the ear.
- Otosclerosis, a disease that results in stiffening of the small bones in the middle ear.
- Other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, circulatory problems, anaemia, allergies, an underactive thyroid gland, autoimmune disease, and diabetes.
- Neck or jaw problems.
- Injuries to the head and neck.
Tinnitus can worsen in some people if they drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, drink caffeinated beverages, or eat certain foods. For reasons not yet entirely clear to researchers, stress and fatigue seem to worsen tinnitus.
How Tinnitus is diagnosed and treated?
Your doctor will examine your ears and conduct a hearing test to diagnose tinnitus. An audiologist will transmit sounds through a set of headphones to one ear at a time. You’ll respond visibly by raising your hand or making a similar gesture when you hear each sound.
Drug therapy can also help reduce the sounds you hear in your ears. Tricyclic antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, including Xanax, amitriptyline, and nortriptyline, can lessen the ear sounds in some cases. However, not everyone responds to drug therapy and the side effects can be bothersome.
Noise-suppression machines can help dull the ringing, buzzing, or roaring by providing relaxing noises to mask your ear sounds. You might also try a masking device that’s similar to a hearing aid and inserts into your ear.
You can also take steps to manage your tinnitus by reducing stress. Stress doesn’t directly cause tinnitus but can make it worse.
Hearing aids can be beneficial for some people with tinnitus. Sound amplification can help those who have trouble hearing normal noises due to their tinnitus.
How can you prevent Tinnitus?
Protect your ears from loud noises to help prevent tinnitus. 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, which is the level associated with average heavy traffic noise.
Try not to treat yourself as the ears are very sensitive. Go see an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Doctor or meet your doctor to recommend one for you.
Do you have questions or comments? Do share with us in the comment section.