Tinnitus: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments
Tinnitus is a very common problem that affects about 749 million people worldwide. It fills your ears with sounds that no one can hear but you. These sounds can be very loud that they block external sounds or very soft that you might not even notice them.
You might hear sounds like ringing, buzzing, humming, hissing or whooshing. These sounds may be heard in one ear or both ears.
It is not a disease. It is a symptom of numerous medical conditions that cannot be cured but can be managed.
What are the symptoms of tinnitus?
People with tinnitus hear specific sounds that come in a variety of forms and differ in volume from barely heard to quite loud. People suffering from tinnitus usually complain of hearing these sounds in their ears or head:
The emotional reactions to tinnitus play a major role in their everyday life, depending on their existing challenges and obstacles. It varies from mild annoyance to reach intense distress and depression in severe cases. It always takes the patients time to accept it and deal with it, to eventually reach a point where they learn how to live with it. Some patients experience:
Sleeping problems- disruption in sleep cycles
Frustration and anger
Lack of control on routine activities
Problems with work and family that contribute to the distress triggered by tinnitus
What are the causes of tinnitus?
Tinnitus can be a symptom of certain medical problems and is usually associated with noise-induced hearing loss. It is not clear why it occurs. The reasons are still poorly understood. Yet, it is often associated with:
As you age, the number of nerve fibers found in the ears decline, leading to hearing problems usually associated with tinnitus.
Age-related hearing loss
The most common cause by far is age-related hearing loss, or what is known as presbycusis. It results from damage to the inner ear nerve cells over time. It is linked to the sensorineural hearing loss type. That means it involves the nerves in the brain and inner ear. The hairs inside your inner ear will be broken, causing them to leak electrical impulses to the brain, causing tinnitus.
Thickening of bones in the middle ear
Exposure to loud noises
It could happen from a single time or over time. The inner ears get damaged because of repeated exposure to loud noises. These noises could be from work or during fun activities such as attending concerts or riding motorcycles. They could also be due to single loud noise exposure such as an explosion or a gunshot.
There are many medications that damage your ears such as chemotherapy medicines, antibiotics, aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). This causes a negative reaction to these medications and disrupt the hearing. If you are taking any of these medications, make sure to follow and monitor with your doctor all the potential effects on your hearing.
Foreign objects in your ears
Foreign objects sometimes like pencils or pens end up rupturing and breaking the eardrums.
It can block the ear and affect the hearing. Sound cannot travel through the ear and reach the cochlea.
Allergy-related tinnitus can be a cause for tinnitus. They cause a blockage in the tube connecting the ear to the throat.
Tinnitus could happen due to anything in the middle ear preventing sound waves from reaching the inner ear. It could be an infection, ear wax blocking the eardrum, or a ruptured eardrum.
It is an inherited condition where abnormal bone growth (the three small bones conducting sound) in the middle ear causes hearing loss.
It is a disorder that affects your hearing and your balance or vertigo (spinning sensation).
It is a common symptom, caused by inflammation of the muscles and joints. A part of the cochlea transforms sound waves into electrical impulses. The brain translates them to sounds. Since the cochlea is next to the temporomandibular joint, inflammation in the joint damages the cochlea and other parts. This is what might cause tinnitus.
Low or high blood pressure
Specific muscles in the head and neck contribute to tinnitus. This is called cervical or muscular tinnitus. Whistles and ringing are perceived in the ear. Clicking noises are associated with spasms affecting the muscles near and in the ear.
Damage in the nerves disrupts electrical signals that travel from the ears to the brain. This sets off ringing sounds in the ears.
Head and neck trauma
How do we treat tinnitus?
After continuous research, there is currently no definite or specific treatment for tinnitus. The search to find an effective tinnitus treatment however continues.
Here are some steps that the healthcare provider can take to treat tinnitus or reduce its effect. They check first the following:
The audiologist checks your ear for any problem. They may check for any sign of pulsatile tinnitus.
The examination involves not only the ear, but also the head, neck, and torso for signs that show the origin of tinnitus.
The audiologist checks whether:
other family members have hearing loss
you spend lots of time near loud noises
you take specific medications
This hearing test checks your ability to hear specific range of tones. You wear earphones in a soundproof room. These earphones transmit specific sounds into one ear each time. You tell when you hear the sound, and the results on the audiogram are compared to your age. The results shown can help the audiologist rule out tinnitus or identify the possible causes and reasons of tinnitus.
The audiologist checks your eardrums with a device called tympanometer. It shows the results in a tympanogram.
Magnetic resonance imaging
After ruling out the medical conditions other than hearing loss, the next step they undergo is recommending different ways to manage the impact of tinnitus on your life on a daily basis. Some of these ways are:
They help making sounds louder and tinnitus less noticeable. By helping you hear better, it will be easy for you to ignore your tinnitus.
The first step is a full assessment to identify the type and degree of hearing loss. After it, the audiologist works and coordinates with you to choose the best quality hearing aid after identifying the volume of your tinnitus sound. The best type is known as pitch masking. This type helps you to use a masking tone that matches the intensity and volume of your current tinnitus sound. You no longer hear or scarcely hear the sounds that bother you.
This solution or option is recommended for those who have tinnitus with severe hearing loss. The implant consists of two parts: the sound processor and the cochlear implant itself. The sound processor is worn externally. The implant is surgically inserted in the inner ear.
These medications can ease tinnitus because they address the problem related to tinnitus. They can improve your sleep or mood.
These are devices that help produce sounds to your ears, delivering soothing sounds like quiet rain or shower. They are masking devices that play soft sounds and music enough to ‘mask’ the noises of tinnitus.
Stress and frustration can negatively affect your life. Increasing relaxation and easing stress are recommended techniques that help people better deal with tinnitus. These include hypnotherapy, socializing with friends and family, engaging in favorite hobbies or sports, biofeedback and many others.
Counseling options or psychotherapy
It is a therapy aimed to educate you about tinnitus and deal with it effectively. You can benefit from it by attending meetings with counselors or support groups.
Counselors help you understand more about your problem and guide you by providing new ways to react to sounds. There are several tinnitus therapies:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is a therapy that aims to change your way of thinking about tinnitus.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)
It is a therapy that helps retrain the way your brain reacts to tinnitus. You get taught to tune the sound out, thus becoming less aware of it. This therapy applies both counseling and maskers.
Tinnitus can affect the quality of life. You can work with your audiologist to determine the underlying causes behind it and accordingly work on treating them. Choose the best strategy that you find effective in your case to reduce tinnitus. Schedule an appointment with your audiologist for an evaluation.