Tinnitus or ringing in the ears is a common symptom seen due to various reasons. This article talks in detail about tinnitus and when you need to consult a doctor for it.
Tinnitus is described as a sensation of ringing that is perceived in the absence of an external sound. It is not a disease per se, but the symptom of an underlying condition. It can be so disturbing that the person is unable to carry on with his routine work and feels depressed and agitated. It can present as a buzzing, roaring, hissing, or whistling noise in the ears. It is most commonly referred to as ‘ringing in the ears.’
As there is no external source for these sounds that people hear, these sounds are also referred to as phantom sounds. It can, at times, interfere with real sounds that you are supposed to hear and can lead to anxiety and stress.
An individual can hear sound in either one ear or both the ears, and it is more common in older adults, but can affect people of all ages. It affects around 15 to 20 % of people worldwide. These symptoms are generally not a sign of something serious, but it can worsen with age and become bothersome. If it is due to infections or ear blockages, then treating the underlying cause will also help get rid of this annoying sound.
There are two types of tinnitus.
Subjective Tinnitus - when you are the only one perceiving it. This is the more common type.
Objective Tinnitus - rarely, a serious condition may be the cause of tinnitus, and this can be perceived by the examining doctor and other people close to you as well. It is usually due to the presence of abnormal blood vessels in the ears. The doctor can identify pulsating sounds when your heartbeats.
The most common description is that of a sensation of ringing in the ears. But, it may also include other sensations such as the following.
- The sensation may be present continuously or on and off.
- The noise may be high pitched or dull.
- It may be perceived on one side or both.
In the following situations, make sure you consult a doctor:
If the sounds bother you too much.
If you develop these sounds after an upper respiratory infection (cold or flu).
If the sounds do not go away in a week.
If tinnitus occurs suddenly or with no apparent cause.
If you also experience hearing loss or dizziness.
The following are some of the most common causes of tinnitus:
1) Inner Ear Hair Cell Damage - This is the most common cause. Normally, sound waves make tiny hair in the inner ear move and trigger cells in the inner ear to send a signal to the brain through the auditory nerve. These signals are then interpreted by the brain as sounds. When these tiny hair get damaged or broken, random electrical signals reach the brain resulting in tinnitus.
2) Presbycusis - It is also called hearing loss with age or age-related hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss that starts around 60 years of age can also cause tinnitus.
3) Exposure to Extreme Sounds - Exposure to sounds such as a bomb going off, heavy equipment, chain saws, etc., can cause such ringing sensation. It can also be a result of listening to really loud songs using earphones or headphones for long periods.
4) Earwax - The wax in the ear protects the ear canal by not allowing dust particles to pass through. But when too much wax gets accumulated, it causes hearing loss or irritation, resulting in tinnitus.
5) Otosclerosis - It is the stiffening of the bones in the middle ear. This condition might affect the hearing and cause tinnitus.
6) Meniere's Disease - Meniere's disease is a condition that is caused by abnormal fluid pressure in the inner ear. Tinnitus is considered to be an early indicator of this disorder.
7) Atherosclerosis - The buildup of fats in the major blood vessels with age is called atherosclerosis. If the vessels near the middle or inner ear get affected, it can make the blood vessels rigid, which makes the blood flow forcibly with each heartbeat. This results in the person learning their heartbeats more prominently.
8) Head or Neck Injuries - Both these injuries can affect the inner ear and can cause one-sided tinnitus.
9) Acoustic Neuroma - It is a benign tumor that originates in the cranial nerve, which is a nerve that runs from the brain to the inner ear. This nerve controls balance and hearing.
10) Eustachian Tube Dysfunction - The eustachian tube, which is the tube that connects the middle ear to the throat, stays expanded throughout. This makes the ear feel full.
11) Inner Ear Muscle Spasms - The inner ear muscles can spasm resulting in hearing loss, ear fullness, and tinnitus. Muscle spasm can be due to neurologic diseases like multiple sclerosis.
12) Temporomandibular (TMJ) Disorders - The joint between the head of the lower jaw and skull, present on each side of your head, is called TMJ. Any problems in this joint can result in tinnitus.
13) Hypertension - High blood pressure can make tinnitus more prominent.
14) Medications - The following medications can cause or worsen tinnitus:
Antibiotics - Erythromycin, Neomycin, and Vancomycin.
Antimalarial drug - Quinine.
Chemotherapy - Methotrexate and Cisplatin.
Diuretics - Bumetanide and Furosemide.
Aspirin if taken in high doses.
Having a job that exposes one to loud noise all the time.
Listening to music on earphones at high volume.
Age-related hearing problems.
Conditions that affect blood flow in the arteries.
Thorough ear examination.
Hearing tests to detect if tinnitus is subjective or objective.
CT or MRI may help detect the underlying cause in some cases.
It depends on the underlying cause of tinnitus. If the cause is unknown, they are managed by the following treatments.
Tinnitus maskers: it is a device that emits white noise to offer a distraction from the uncomfortable ringing.
Tinnitus retraining: it is a method to retrain the brain so that it learns to ignore the sound.
Counseling: to learn about tinnitus and how to cope with it.
Cognitive behavior therapy: similar to retraining, this therapy is given to adapt to the noise so it does not interfere anymore.
Avoid exposure to loud noise until you get better.
Many report a temporary relief from listening to a white noise such as the sound of the fan running or static from radio or television.
Relaxation may help as this condition is worsened by stress.
Staying away from alcohol and caffeine prevents it from getting aggravated.
Use earmuffs to protect your ears from loud sounds at work.
Avoid continuous use of earphones and headphones at high volume.
Abstain from putting earbuds, keys and other objects in your ear.
Have a healthy diet, exercise regularly and keep your heart healthy.
This refers to the accompanying symptoms that the person is likely to experience.
Difficulty focussing on tasks.
To know more about tinnitus, consult an ENT specialist online now!
It is easy to get rid of tinnitus by avoiding the possible irritants. In a quiet environment, even the sound of a fan, kitchen equipment, soothing music, and other noises. Stress management and reduction in alcohol consumption can help you get rid of tinnitus.
Some patients report that it sounds like hissing, roaring, ringing, or screeching. Other patients feel they sound like crickets, whooshing, sirens, ocean waves, pulsing, clicking, buzzing, dial tones, or even music.
Treatment for tinnitus requires anti-anxiety drugs such as Valium. In certain cases, antidepressants such as Elavil are also prescribed to reduce tinnitus. The use of steroids in the middle ear is known to be effective. If it is combined with other drugs like anti-anxiety medications, the benefits received are doubled. The best example of an anti-anxiety drug is Alprazolam.
The signs of tinnitus are noise in the ears, such as roaring, ringing, hissing, buzzing, or whistling; the noise may be continuous or intermittent. Most of the time, only the person who has tinnitus can hear it. This is called subjective tinnitus.
- Reduce the exposure to things or scenarios that make your tinnitus worse.
- Avoid possible irritants.
- Cover up the noise. In a quiet setting, soft music, a fan, or low-volume radio static may help mask the tinnitus's noise.
- Manage stress. Stress can contribute to tinnitus worse.
- Reduce or avoid alcohol consumption.
Although annoying, tinnitus usually isn't a sign of something severe. However, it can worsen with age; for many people. Tinnitus can be improved with treatment.
In most of the cases, tinnitus dissipates on its own regardless of the cause. However, that doesn't mean you should wait for weeks, months, or years for your tinnitus to disappear. Consult an audiologist if your tinnitus continues for more than a couple of weeks. Hence, it will negatively harm your quality of life.
The following are the ways to stop ringing in the ears.
- Reduce exposure to heavy noises. Listening to soft music via headphones may help to distract the ears from ringing.
- White noise
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine.
- Head tapping.
Foods that make Tinnitus worse are:
- Fast Food.
There is no permanent cure for tinnitus. However, it can be persistent or temporary, severe or mild, instant, or gradual. The purpose of treatment is to help you manage your perception of the sound in your head. Many treatments or medicine can help reduce the perceived intensity of tinnitus, as well as its omnipresence.
Last reviewed at:
03 Aug 2020 - 5 min read
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