What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of ringing, swishing or other kinds of noises within the ear or head without any corresponding external sound. Tinnitus is not a disease in itself; rather it is a symptom of some other underlying condition.
Causes of Tinnitus
- Tinnitus can arise in the outer, middle or inner ear or be caused by certain brain abnormalities.
- The presence of any foreign body or wax in the external ear can cause a person to be more sensitive to sounds in the head.
- Infection, fluid collection or disease in the ear drums or middle ear bones can also cause tinnitus.
- One of the most common causes of tinnitus is hearing loss due to damaged endings of the hearing nerve of the inner ear. As a person ages, some amount of hearing nerve impairment is imminent which results in tinnitus.
- Exposure to loud noises often damages hearing, resulting in tinnitus. Most people do not concern themselves with the harmful effects of loud noise such as those emanating from fire arms, loud music etc.
- Excessive use of some medications such as aspirin.
- Presence of other ear diseases such as Meniere’s syndrome can al so cause tinnitus. Meniere ’s syndrome is characterized by dizziness, a feeling of fullness in the ear and tinnitus. It can last for some days and go away.
- Tinnitus can be the symptom of some other serious problem such as an acoustic brain tumor (in this case tinnitus will be felt only in one ear) or aneurysm.
- Overuse of the quinine and the antibiotic aminoglycoside can also cause tinnitus.
Prevention of Tinnitus
- Try not to damage your ears. Avoid excessive noise as it can lead to tinnitus.
- Protect your ears at the workplace. Wear muffs or earplugs whenever necessary.
- Wear protective gear for the ears whenever you around noises that may irritate your ears such as sporting events, concerts, hunting etc.
Symptoms of Tinnitus
- The affected person can hear a noise which is not audible to others.
- The noise may be a ringing, buzzing clicking or rushing noise.
- Tinnitus can be accompanied by dizziness (as in Meniere’s syndrome) or hearing loss in some cases.
Tests for Tinnitus
Blood test to check for hyperthyroidism may be undertaken. In some rare cases, a spinal tap to measure the pressure of fluid in the skull and spinal cord may be performed.
Treatment for Tinnitus
Treatment for Tinnitus depends on the underlying cause of the condition. In case of hearing damage, no treatment may be required. In case tinnitus proves to be very bothersome, a doctor may prescribe:
- Anti depressants or anti anxiety drugs.
- Maskers, which are small devices that help in reducing awareness of tinnitus by generating a competing sound.
- Fans, radios or white noise machines to be used at night if the person has trouble falling asleep.
Many people feel aggravated symptoms during periods of stress, so relaxation therapies can be helpful. Caffeine should be avoided as it may worsen symptoms. Sometimes, biofeedback can help in diminishing tinnitus. Whenever tinnitus is caused by other problems, treatment involves finding a solution for the primary problem. Control of blood pressure, adequate rest and exercise can help in treatment of tinnitus.
Types of Tinnitus
Objective Tinnitus: Occurs when the physician can perceive the sound emanating from the person’s ear. It can be caused due to muscle spasms that can cause crackling or clicks around the middle ear. A condition called pulsative or vascular tinnitus also exists when a person experiences a sound that repeats itself with the pulse or heart beat. Pulsative tinnitus is caused due to increased blood turbulence or altered blood flow near the ear, overactive thyroid or benign intracranial hypertension. The causes of objective tinnitus are relatively easier to find.
Subjective Tinnitus: This form of tinnitus can have many causes, and it is usually a result of otology disorders (conditions that lead to hearing loss).
Evaluation of Tinnitus
A person showing tinnitus symptoms should be evaluated by an ENT physician who will ask for the entire medical history and conduct a physical examination of the head and neck area. An audiogram (complete hearing test) may also be performed. A CT scan or MRI may also be required to diagnose tinnitus.