That sound you hear that no one else does? It is known as tinnitus.
It is not a disease, but a symptom to a problem either in your ear or the nerves running through it.
People suffering from it have problems working, hearing and even sleeping.
Sometimes tinnitus can be cured by treating the causing condition. When it can’t be treated, the good thing is there are many ways that allow us to manage it and its impact and adapt to it.
This article will explore:
What is Tinnitus?
It is different sounds in the head that no one hears except you. It could be whistling, buzzing, ringing, humming, clicking, roaring or even shrieking.
The sound can come from one ear or both. It could be from inside the head or from a distance. It could be soft you hardly notice or loud it blocks out any sound coming from an external source.
There are 4 main kinds of tinnitus:
Objective tinnitus: the doctor can hear when examining the ear. It could be due to problems with blood vessels, or with the muscles and bones of the ear. It is a rare form and once the cause is treated, it usually stops for good.
Subjective tinnitus: you can only hear the sounds, which is the most common type. It may appear and disappear suddenly, and in extreme cases, it never stops.
Sensory tinnitus: It is due to impaired auditory system. It is a form of subjective tinnitus caused by several disorders that affect how the brain usually processes sound.
Somatic tinnitus: it is directly related to touch and movement. Anything causing the neck to twist is a potential source of somatic tinnitus. It is known as cognitive tinnitus.
When to see a doctor
Many people don’t feel bothered from tinnitus. However, others might be very bothered, especially when it starts affecting and disrupting their daily life. Seek a doctor when:
Your tinnitus continues even after developing a respiratory infection and finishing from it
You feel hearing loss or dizziness
You feel anxious or depressed along with the sounds you constantly hear
Your tinnitus starts suddenly
You feel tinnitus in one ear only
You have trouble concentrating, sleeping or hearing
To identify the cause of tinnitus, your doctor asks about your medical history. Your ears, head and neck are usually examined. They will ask about your lifestyle. Make sure you give your doctor all the information needed, from the sounds you are hearing to the difficulties you are facing and the medications you are taking. It is also important to mention:
What is the nature of your work?
If you are continuously exposed to loud sounds
If you experienced any injuries worth mentioning
How long has the sounds been going on?
Does it become worse at particular times of the day?
In which ear do you feel tinnitus? In one only or both?
Is it irregular or constant?
How loud are the noises you hear?
Do the sounds you hear change? Or they stay the same?
What does the sound look like?
Does it bother you a lot in a way where you cannot have a normal day? Or is it a little irritating only?
Diagnosing it might be tricky and challenging because each might experience it in a different way. That is why these questions are very important for the specialist to ask.
To determine the cause, certain tests are considered, including a complete and overall examination of your ears. Specific sounds that are heard only by the patient can be detected by professionals. If the source of the problem is resolved, you might be referred to an otologist or an audiologist.
Audiogram: You sit in a soundproof room with earphones transmitting sounds into one ear at a time. You indicate when you hear a
sound, and the results will be examined and compared with results generally normal for your age. This either rules out or identifies the possible reasons for tinnitus.
Loudness match tests: This shows the level of sounds you are hearing whether you feel it as a whisper or a shout.
Movement: Your doctor asks you to move your eyes, neck, arms and legs. This helps to detect any disorder that needs to be treated.
Lab tests: Some disorders must be ruled out in case your doctor has doubts about them. These include thyroid problems, heart diseases, anemia or vitamin deficiencies.
Imaging tests: Based on the diagnosis of the doctor, some causes might be suspected. This is when imaging tests are required, such as computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
Types of sounds
When checking tinnitus with your doctor, they always ask about the kind of noises you are hearing. Describing what sound you are hearing is very important because it helps the doctor identify the possible causes and how to deal with them.
Clicking: This type implies that the cause of tinnitus could be due to muscle contractions in and/or around the ears.
Humming or rushing: These sounds are usually noticed when exercising or changing positions, like when you stand up or lie down. They come out from blood vessel causes, for instance high blood pressure.
Low-pitched ringing: This sound indicates ear canal blockages, otosclerosis, or Meniere’s disease.
High-pitched ringing: This is the most common sound. Its causes could be exposure to loud noise, hearing loss or certain medications.
Causes of Tinnitus
There are numerous factors that act as leading causes of tinnitus. Finding the cause is the first step to getting rid of it or at least treating it. It is believed that it is caused by an abnormal activity in different parts of the brain responsible for processing sound. Some of the causes producing this activity are:
Exposure to loud sounds
Medication, specifically ototoxic ones
Ear infections and allergies
Depression or anxiety
Buildup of earwax
Trauma to the ear
Meniere’s disease- affecting our balance and hearing
Otosclerosis – abnormal bone grows in the middle ear and causes hearing loss
Heart diseases, diabetes and thyroid disorders
Since tinnitus sometimes cannot be cured, there are certain treatments that can aid in making its symptoms less noticeable and bothersome. They concentrate on the emotional, cognitive and attentional impact of tinnitus. After ruling out medical conditions that might be causing, there are different treatments that are recommended. Depending on the cause, your audiologist or hearing care professional can assess the cause, highlight how it’s affecting your daily life and recommend one of these treatments accordingly:
Earwax removal: sometimes excessive earwax can be a reason. Cleaning out your ears might solve the problem.
Medications: they don’t cure directly, but they make the symptoms more bearable.
Changing specific medications you are already taking: sometimes a certain medicine could be the cause of tinnitus. Your doctor will then recommend stopping it, reducing its dosage, or switching to a different medicine.
Hearing aids: Noise-induced hearing loss or hearing loss due to age can be causes of tinnitus. In that case, hearing aids, the best hearing solution, improve the symptoms by turning up the volume on outside noises other than the ones you are hearing. Even if hearing loss isn’t detected, they still help to mask the unwanted sounds due to the latest tinnitus-masking features they are equipped with. They make it easier for you to hear and ignore tinnitus.
White noise machines: Such devices produce environmental sounds such as ocean waves, falling rain, the static on a TV or the whirring of a fan. They produce steady sounds which mask the tinnitus sounds you hear, especially at night.
Hearing protection: Being constantly exposed to loud sounds damage the ear nerves. This leads to tinnitus and hearing loss. Use headphones, earplugs, or earmuffs.
Sound-masking devices: They produce noise that makes the patients almost forget about their tinnitus. They are similar to hearing aids. These devices can play natural noises, white noise, music or other sounds.
Tinnitus retraining therapy, acoustic therapy, music or sound therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and stress management all act as habituation process which allows the brain to interpret and accept tinnitus.
Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT): using sound to retrain the brain to be less aware of tinnitus. It is a combination of maskers and counseling.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): changing the way you think about tinnitus and accepting it by finding ways to live with the conditions associated with it.
Sound therapy: listening to neutral sounds which help you get distracted from the sounds caused by tinnitus
If you think you have tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional. Find an audiologist specialized in tinnitus treatment and discuss all your symptoms in details. Tinnitus is different to each person. Getting the appropriate treatment might require different options than others. Find what is right for you and your condition!