Why Tinnitus Happens? and What does it sound like?
Can you imagine a radio playing nonstop in your head where you cannot shut it off? If you imagine this in one or both ears, you can then have some idea of what it is like to have tinnitus.
Tinnitus is not a disease. It is a symptom of faults in the auditory system, including the ears and the brain.
Tinnitus has a significant impact on your everyday life. It can be very distressing and can affect your concentration. Due to the annoyance and distraction it makes, it might trigger difficulty problems such tiredness, stress, anxiety, depression, frustration and frequent mood swings.
It is worse at night, especially when trying to sleep in an early environment.
However, after knowing its causes, it doesn’t have to dramatically affect your life. You can take specific steps that can help to cope with it.
We will discuss in this page:
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is the sensation of hearing different sounds that no one hears except you. These sounds are not actually present in your surroundings. You might hear these sounds in one or both ears, or in your head. They might come and go. Other times, you might hear them all the time. Noises can fluctuate in loudness.
What does it sound like?
Tinnitus can be portrayed in many different ways. People report hearing different sounds such as:
Sounds of wind or waves
What are the different parts of the ear?
The ear is split into three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear.
The outer ear consists of:
The part we see on the sides of the head (pinna)
The ear canal, the tube that connects the outer ear to the middle ear
The eardrum, the membrane that divides the external ear from the middle ear
The middle ear consists of:
Three small bones named ossicles, they transmit sound waves to the inner ear
The inner ear consists of:
The cochlea, containing the nerves for hearing
The semicircular canals responsible for balance
The nerves going to the brain
Why does tinnitus occur? What triggers it?
The exact biological process by which hearing loss is linked to tinnitus is still being investigated. What we know is that the loss of specific sound frequencies leads to changes in how our brain works.
The ringing comes from the part of the inner ear, the cochlea, that resembles a snail shell. Changes that happen in the nerve activity of the cochlea could lead to tinnitus.
The neurological activity within the auditory cortex, the part of the brain responsible for hearing, is affected. When transmission of sound or signal is disturbed, some neural circuits fail to receive signals. They begin to chatter and become hyperactive. This deviation causes the brain to try and analyze the change that happened on the neurological activity. However, the nerve cells do not remain silent. They begin to ‘chatter’ synchronously attuned to one another. To compensate for this change as sound, this gives the sounds of ringing, buzzing, whistling and many other noises.
In simpler words, hair cells of the ear send sound waves to the brain in order for us to hear. When they are damaged, they send off wrong signals. That is why people hear these sounds that aren’t really there. Over time in some cases, this pattern starts to strengthen, and tinnitus starts to increase.
These changes could be happening due to the following causes:
Exposure to loud sounds such as loud music, military personnel, air traffic controllers, construction workers, and many others
Loud noise can destroy the hair cells in the inner ear. Since these hair cells can be neither renewed nor replaced, this leads to tinnitus. Continuous noises and exposure to these noises can worsen tinnitus and its symptoms.
Buildup of wax in the ears
Cerumen or widely known as ear wax protects our ear canal and eardrum by decelerating the growth of bacteria. When it accumulates, it decreases our ability to hear. This makes the auditory system overcompensate for the hearing loss and “manufacture” noises that do not exist.
Leaving the wax buildup untreated can lead to permanent damage, which might result in chronic tinnitus.
Other obstruction could also increase the pressure in the inner ear such as dirt, loose hair and foreign objects.
Hearing deteriorates as people get older, generally starting around the age of 60.
It is a disorder of the inner ears.
It mostly impacts people in their 40s and 50s, but it also afflicts all people, including children.
It affects hearing and balance.
It causes vertigo.
Upper respiratory tract infections
It can increase the pressure inside your ear, causing damage in the hair cells.
Ototoxic medications including blood pressure medicines, aspirin, ibuprofen and other antibiotics
They have toxic effect on the ear and the nerve supply.
Depending on the medication and dosage, their effects might be temporary or permanent.
When experiencing tinnitus after a new medication, contact your physician immediately.
If you already have tinnitus, inform your physician so he can prescribe a new medication.
Numerous diseases cause tinnitus or make it worse. Some of them are:
This joint is where the lower jaw connects to the skull, mainly in front of the ears. It causes damage to the ligaments, muscles or cartilage. Patients experience pain in the jaw or face, limited ability to move the jaw, and popping sounds while talking or chewing.
Issues that involve the blood vessels
Head or neck trauma
It causes nerve, muscles and blood flow issues related to tinnitus. It damages the auditory nerves connecting the hair cells to the brain.
What are the early stages of tinnitus?
You should see your audiologist if:
You suffer from tinnitus constantly or regularly
You continually hear the sounds of tinnitus
Your tinnitus gets worse
Your tinnitus bothers you and affects your daily routines like sleep
Seeking professional help is a first and crucial step. Consult your doctor, audiologist or ear, nose and throat specialist to rule out having an underlying medical condition. This will help you to:
Discover everything you need to know about tinnitus
Accept that you have tinnitus- once you cross this stage, you are halfway to adapting to your current situation
Realize that it is stressful and tiring in the beginning, but this will pass with time as you learn how to manage your condition
When your brain first hears tinnitus, it classifies it as threatening. This puts your body in a state of anxiety. If your brain stays thinking tinnitus is a threat, you will become anxious and stressful every time you hear your tinnitus. The more attention you pay for it, the harder it makes it for you to get used to it.
That is why adapting to tinnitus changes the whole situation. You can reach a point where you get rid of all the negative reactions to it.
It will no longer affect your life the way it used to before. You will start to notice improvement in your sleep. Your anxiety will decrease and your ability to concentrate will increase.
The misconception that there is nothing to do concerning tinnitus should stop. You can manage your tinnitus in a way where it doesn’t become a problem anymore. The idea itself helps you to lead a normal and productive life.
If you are experiencing tinnitus, identifying the cause is the first step to stopping it. There are things you can do that help in lessening your tinnitus. The next step depends on the cause. The knowledge itself makes it easy for you to accept it and adapt to the sounds you hear.