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Tinnitus Explained: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment.

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If you are hearing an unusual ringing or whistling sound that others cannot hear, you might be suffering from an ear-related problem called tinnitus.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a medical condition that causes you to experience ringing or buzzing in your ears. Other sounds you might hear include roaring, whistling, and hissing.

The noise you hear isn’t caused by an outside noise of any kind; hence, other people will not be able to hear it either.

Tinnitus is estimated to affect up to 15 to 20% of people around the world and is often experienced by the elderly. According to research, 1 to 3% of patients with this disease can experience the severe quality of life repercussions.

Causes of tinnitus

Tinnitus can be caused by many reasons. Here are a few common tinnitus causes:

Loss of hearing

There are delicate hairs inside your ear. Sound vibrations make these hairs vibrate, which is important for hearing.

When the hair cells break or bend, they leak electrical impulses that cause tinnitus. This happens mostly due to old age or prolonged exposure to loud noises.

Medicines

Various drugs such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), certain antibiotics, antidepressants, etc., may cause tinnitus. The annoying sounds usually go away once you stop taking these medications.

Ear canal blockage

Your ears can get clogged up with fluid, ear wax, dirt, or other materials and cause a buildup in pressure, which can result in tinnitus.

Head or neck injuries

If you’ve suffered from a head or neck injury, there is a chance that it might affect your inner ear and hearing nerves. Such injuries are one of the causes of tinnitus that is felt in one ear only.

Meniere’s disease

Tinnitus may be an early symptom of Meniere’s disease. Meniere’s is characterized by abnormal pressure levels in the inner ear and can cause dizziness and disorientation.

Eustachian tube dysfunction

In this condition, your eustachian tube (a passage connecting your ears to the back of your throat) remains open constantly, causing fluid or pressure buildup in your ear. This may cause a popping sensation when swallowing or yawning.

Muscle spasms in the inner ear

Inner ear muscle spasms can trigger tinnitus symptoms such as hearing loss and fullness in the ear. This can be caused by disorders like multiple sclerosis.

Acoustic neuroma

Acoustic neuroma is a benign or noncancerous growth that typically affects the auditory nerve. It can lead to tinnitus and other hearing-related complications.

Changes in the ear bone

Stiffening of your ear bones (otosclerosis) may affect your hearing and cause you to hear ringing or buzzing noises. Bone growth in the middle ear tends to be genetic.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders

If you have TMJ problems, you might experience tinnitus. This happens when your lower jawbone is not aligned with your skull.

Blood vessel disorders

Various conditions can affect the blood flow in your veins and arteries; these changes might cause tinnitus or make it more perceptible.

Symptoms of tinnitus

Some of the common tinnitus symptoms are:

  1. Apart from hearing ringing sounds, tinnitus can also cause other types of phantom noises like buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing or humming.
  2. Tinnitus sounds may vary in pitch and volume. You might hear the sound in one or both ears.
  3. The noise you hear can either be continuous or periodic and relatively quiet or loud, depending on the background noise. It’s likely to be loudest in the middle of the night when you need complete silence to fall asleep.
  4. Sometimes the ringing noise can sync with your heartbeats. This is called pulsatile tinnitus. It is a rare tinnitus condition.

Diagnosis of tinnitus

Your doctor will examine the inside of your ears to diagnose tinnitus. Some common examination methods include:

Hearing exam

This test is done to assess whether you can hear specific sounds or not. The result will then be compared with the results of people your own age. This can help in detecting tinnitus.

Movement exam

This test involves moving parts such as the eyes, jaws, neck, etc., to detect the presence of tinnitus.

Imaging test

CT or MRI scans are conducted to see if you have any ear deformities or damage.

Lab tests

Blood tests may be conducted to detect anaemia, heart disease, etc.

In order to treat your tinnitus symptoms, doctors may look for contributing conditions such as earwax buildup or head trauma. In some cases, they may also examine whether any medications you are on could cause tinnitus.

Treatment of tinnitus

Depending on the underlying health condition, there are a few ways of treating tinnitus.

  1. Some common tinnitus treatments are:
    • Removing earwax: Your hearing difficulty may be due to the accumulation of earwax inside your ear. Removing the earwax blockages can help you get relief from tinnitus.
    • Treatment of blood vessel conditions: If you have an underlying blood vessel condition that is causing tinnitus, then this can be cured by medication or surgery.
    • Using hearing aids: Tinnitus symptoms may be improved by using hearing aids if your tinnitus is related to age or noise-induced hearing loss.
  2. Although in some cases, the causes of tinnitus are incurable, some treatments can help alleviate the symptoms. For example, you can use noise suppression devices such as white noise machines and masking devices to reduce the hindrance caused due to tinnitus.
  3. There are also counselling options available such as tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), to help you with your tinnitus symptoms.
  4. Learning yoga, meditation, tinnitus exercises, or other relaxation techniques can help you to cope with the frustrations of tinnitus in different ways.
  5. You can also use auditory prostheses such as cochlear implants to help with tinnitus. A cochlear implant is a device that can help you hear better by using a microphone to bypass damaged parts of your ear and use electrodes to stimulate the hearing part of your brain. This can help restore lost hearing.
  6. You can take steps to manage your tinnitus by making healthy lifestyle changes. For example, limit your exposure to loud noises, avoid getting too stressed, and manage your fatigue.
  7. It might be worth joining one of the many support groups out there and sharing your experience with others who have tinnitus.

Conclusion:

Having tinnitus is a frustrating experience because the symptoms and treatments are primarily unclear unless it is a treatable form of tinnitus.

However, with proper care and lifestyle changes, you can lessen the severity of your symptoms, which may improve your quality of life. To learn more about tinnitus and avail of tinnitus treatment, visit the CK Birla Hospital or book an appointment with Dr Anish Gupta.

FAQs

Is tinnitus causing that ringing in your ear?

Yes, tinnitus causes you to experience ringing or buzzing in your ears.

How can I get rid of my tinnitus?

Common treatments for tinnitus such as ear wax removal, blood vessel condition treatment or hearing aids can help you get rid of tinnitus.

Can tinnitus make you deaf?

Although tinnitus and hearing loss are related, having tinnitus doesn’t make you deaf.

How long does tinnitus last?

It depends. Some tinnitus symptoms usually go away in 16 to 24 hours, while others may persist for months or years.