Tinnitus is the perception of irregular or continuous noise or ringing in one or both ears. A person with tinnitus may also hear hissing, clicking, or whistling sounds. It can be temporary, or chronic and persistent.
Tinnitus is thought to affect about 50 million Americans. Usually, it occurs after the age of 50 years, but children and adolescents can also experience it.
Tinnitus happens when we intentionally hear any sound which does not come from a source outside the body. Basically, it is not a disease, but a symptom of an underlying condition.
The noise is typically subjective. This means that only the one who has tinnitus can hear it. Its most common form is a steady, high-pitched ringing in the ears which can be annoying. But it does not usually indicate a serious problem.
In less than 1% of cases, it may be objective. This shows that other people can also hear the noise. This type of noise may be caused by cardiac or musculoskeletal movements in the body of a person. This can be an indication of a medical emergency.
Symptoms of tinnitus
Tinnitus is a non-auditory, internal sound which can be in one or both ears, and either low- or high-pitched. The fluctuating sounds have been described as chirping, hissing, static, clicking, whistling, screeching, buzzing, pulsing, roaring, whooshing, or musical.
The volume of the sound can vary. Often, it is most evident at night or during periods of quiet. There may be some hearing loss in this condition.
Common causes of tinnitus
Its common causes are excessive or increasing noise exposure, neck and head injuries, and ear infections. It can seldom indicate a serious medical condition. Currently, there is no cure for tinnitus, but there are ways of managing it. For some cases, it can result in insomnia, anxiety, difficulty with concentration, poor work, irritability, and depression.
In many individuals, tinnitus is caused by one of the following conditions;
- Age-related hearing loss; hearing worsens with age for many people, generally starting around age 50 to 60. Hearing loss can cause tinnitus. The medical term used specifically for this type of hearing loss is called presbycusis.
- Exposure to loud noise; loud noises, like those from heavy equipment, firearms and chain saws, are common causes of noise-related hearing loss. Portable music devices can also cause noise-related hearing loss if played loudly for long periods. Tinnitus caused by short-term exposure usually goes away. However, both short- and long-term exposure to loud sound can even cause permanent damage.
- Earwax blockage; earwax protects the ear canal by slowing the growth of bacteria and trapping dirt. When earwax accumulates in large amounts, it becomes too hard to wash away naturally. This can result in hearing loss or irritation of the eardrum, which can lead to tinnitus.
- Ear bone changes; stiffening of the bones in the middle ear may affect hearing and cause tinnitus. This condition is caused by abnormal bone growth. Thus, it also tends to run in families.
Treatments for tinnitus
The first step is to treat its underlying cause which may involve;
- quick care for an ear infection
- discontinuing any ototoxic medicines
- treating any kind of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems that affect the joint between the cheekbone and the jaw bone
There is no proper cure for most cases of tinnitus. Most people become adapted to it and learn to tune it out. Ignoring it instead of focusing on can provide relief.
When this fails to work, the person may benefit from treatment for the effects of tinnitus, hearing difficulties, insomnia, anxiety, social isolation, and depression. Dealing with these problems can meaningfully improve a person’s quality of life.