If you are experiencing strange noises in your ears, you most probably have tinnitus. Tinnitus has become a common condition, associated usually with hearing loss. The constant noise in the head doesn’t indicate a serious health problem. However, it sure can be very disturbing and annoying.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is always referred to as “ringing in the ears”. It is the medical term for hearing noises in your ear without any outside source of the sound.
The sounds heard are either soft or loud. They can be:
The person suffering from tinnitus can even think they are hearing water running, air escaping, musical notes or even the sounds inside the seashell. These noises can be intermittent or continuous.
Tinnitus can exist in two forms: subjective and objective.
The sound is heard by the patient with tinnitus only.
It is present in almost 95 percent of tinnitus cases.
The sound is heard by the person with tinnitus, in addition to the examiner/audiologist.
This is done through a stethoscope near the person’s head, neck or ear, where the examining physician can hear the sounds in the patient’s ear canal.
It is present in less than 5 percent of all tinnitus cases.
Tinnitus can be described as:
What are the causes of tinnitus?
It is still not clear or known why the person with tinnitus hears these sounds. The causes are still vague, and tinnitus continues to be a symptom for almost any ear problem, such as:
Earwax in the ear
Certain conditions like diabetes, multiple sclerosis and thyroid disorders
Ototoxic medications such as antibiotics, chemotherapy medicines, sedatives, antidepressants, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
Problems with the eustachian tube, which is the tube running between the throat and the middle ear
Even children can suffer from tinnitus, especially those who experience severe hearing loss.
What do you feel when you have tinnitus?
Tinnitus can be the cause of many different conditions. It is not a disease. It is a symptom of another health problem.
Damage caused to the tiny hairs in your ear, in the cochlea, is the reason for this sound you hear. These cells found there help to transform sound waves into nerve signals. If the auditory pathways found in the brain don’t receive the signals they are expecting from the cochlea, the brain ‘turns up the volume’ in an effort to detect where the signal is. This results in tinnitus.
If you develop tinnitus, it is very important to see your healthcare practitioner. How can you know you have tinnitus? Many tinnitus symptoms start to show up, acting as an alarm that something is wrong with your ears. Some are:
Hearing sounds in your ears that do not really exist (the most common symptom)
Having difficulty concentrating or sleeping
Feeling anxious and depressed most of the times
Reporting additional problems at home or work
Feeling stressed all the time
Hearing sounds very similar to grinding steel, running engines, blowing winds, falling water and many others
Hearing high pitched and loud sounds
Hearing very soft, whispering sounds
Hearing musical hallucinations- hearing musical refrains unremittingly
Having pulsatile tinnitus
Having, in rare cases, thoughts of suicide
Tinnitus is a part of the aging process, but there are many other reasons. Sometimes, it is temporary and other times, it lasts for the rest of your life.
Tinnitus is usually a symptom arising from more than 75% of all the disorders that might affect the ears. Some are:
When do you feel tinnitus the most?
Tinnitus is the most noticeable at night. When you go to bed at night, your surroundings are usually quieter than other times during the day. Although the day and night symptoms are identical, it is more common to feel tinnitus louder at night rather than during the day.
When should you see the doctor?
If the sounds you are hearing are getting worse or affecting your concentration and sleep, it is time to talk to your doctor. There are some indications that you should be aware of and take direct action:
Experiencing ear noises after a head injury
Feeling dizzy, off balance, nauseous, or sick, in addition to the sounds associated with tinnitus
Hearing unexplained noises even after trying many techniques
Paying attention to noise in one ear only and that continue weeks and sometimes longer
They will check your ears and look for any underlying or treatable cause. They might refer you to an audiologist or ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT).
They take detailed medical history, knowing about all the medical conditions throughout your life and if there is any history of infections.
They will then apply some hearing tests.
Some questions that they might ask regarding the symptoms you are experiencing:
How long have these sounds been going on?
Is it constant or recurrent?
Does it get worse at specific times of the day?
In which ear do you hear and feel you have tinnitus? In one ear or both?
How loud are the noises?
Are the symptoms bearable or extremely bothersome and distressing?
Do the sounds you hear change?
What does it sound like exactly?
Are there particular conditions that trigger it such as certain food or beverages or exposure to noise?
What is home care of tinnitus?
There are some methods that tinnitus patients can adapt and refer to in order to ‘mask’ tinnitus and make it less irritating. Here are some:
White noise machines- drowning out distracting sounds and producing noises that calms the listener
Avoiding things that might make tinnitus worse. Examples include alcohol, caffeine and smoking.
Getting enough rest or sleep. Sleeping with the head propped up in an elevated position might be useful because it lessens head congestion and makes noises less distinctive.
Protecting the ears through avoiding loud places and wearing ear protection when needed.
Joining a support group- talking to other people with tinnitus can help cope with this situation
Controlling diabetes and blood pressure
What is the treatment of tinnitus?
Since there is no cure for tinnitus, knowing the cause and trying to fix the problem can help make tinnitus symptoms go away.
If there is excessive ear wax, your audiologist will request to remove them.
If you are taking a certain medication and you think it is causing the problem, check with your provider and discuss alternatives. Don’t stop taking this medication without the consent of your provider.
Many medicines can be used to relieve the patient from tinnitus symptoms. However, not all work with patients in the same way. You can try different combinations of medicines and decide, with the help of your provider, which suits you best.
Hearing aids can assist by making the sounds louder.
Some people find tinnitus as an irritation they can adapt and learn to live with. For others, it can be very disturbing and distressing. Regardless how you react to it, you can ‘habituate’ tinnitus. You can train your brain not to notice tinnitus anymore. There are many treatments that can help. Talk with your audiologist about a specific management plan that best works for you.