According to NHS Choices, tinnitus refers to any sound that a person can hears which does not come from an external source but within one’s body. Tinnitus causes ringing in the ear, buzzing in ear, humming in the ear, grinding in the ear, hissing in the ear, whistling in the ear, roaring in the ear, clicking in the ear, and sizzling in the ear, among others.
Types of tinnitus
Mayo Clinic asserts that there are two main types of tinnitus;
- Subjective tinnitus – this is a kind of tinnitus that only you can hear.
- Objective tinnitus – this is a kind of tinnitus that you and your doctor can hear.
What causes tinnitus?
There are various causes of tinnitus. As highlighted by WebMD, the following are the common causes of tinnitus;
- Prolonged exposure to loud sound
- Ear blockage – due to buildup of wax, ear infection, benign tumor of the auditory nerve
- Meniere’s disease – which affects the inner part of the ear
- Certain medications – tinnitus is cited as a side effect for about 200 prescription and non-prescription drugs including aspirin, quinine, several kinds of antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-inflammatories, sedatives
- Neck or jawbone problems – temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome
- Otosclerosis – a disease that causes stiffening of the small bones in the middle ear
- Injuries to the neck and head
- Other medical conditions including diabetes, underactive thyroid gland, allergies, anemia, circulatory problems, cardiovascular diseases and hypertension, amongst others.
- Normal ageing process – which may result into deterioration of cochlea
There are several risk factors that are likely to expose one to tinnitus. The following are key risk factors as cited by Mayo Clinic;
- Prolonged exposure to loud noise – prolonged exposure to loud noise can impair the ear’s tiny sensory hair nerves that transmits sound to the brain thus causing tinnitus
- Cardiovascular failures – conditions that interfere with your regular blood flow such as hypertension, atherosclerosis (narrowed arteries) and others can heighten the risk of tinnitus
- Smoking – those who smoke have higher risk to tinnitus than non-smokers
- Gender – men are more likely to suffer from tinnitus than women
- Age – the older you become the more the functioning nerve fiber in your ears deteriorates thus increasing your risk to contracting tinnitus
Complications that may result from tinnitus
Though the severity of tinnitus differs from person to person, it does affect quality of life. In severe situations, tinnitus may cause the following;
- Memory loss
- Lack of concentration
- Anxiety and irritability
- Sleep disorders
Various kinds of tests and evaluation of symptoms may be carried out by a doctor to determine the likely cause of tinnitus. Mayo Clinic has highlighted the following as important diagnostic tests;
- Audiological (Hearing) exam: in this exam, you are placed in a soundproof room and fitted with a headset into which various sounds will be passed through and you will be prompted to indicate when you can hear the sound and the particular ear you are hearing from. The results are examined to determine possible causes of tinnitus.
- Movement tests: you may be asked to clench your jaw, move your neck, your eyes, your arms and legs. This is intended to determine how tinnitus responds to each action and thus determine its source.
- Imaging tests: incase audiological and movement tests fail to bring out definite cause, MRI and CT scans may be necessary.
Besides these tests, your doctor may diagnose your tinnitus based on the character of sound you hear. The following is the diagnosis based on the respective sound characteristics;
- Clicking – associated with muscular contractions in and around your ear
- Throbbing – associated with cardiovascular problems
- Humming or rushing – sign of vascular problems
- Low pitch ringing – (especially in one ear), is associated with Meniere’s disease or onset of vertigo
- High pitch ringing – if lasting for a few hours, it could be due to exposure to loud noise. If lasting longer, it could be associated with age, medication, or acoustic neuroma
- Assorted sounds – accumulated earwax or foreign bodies may cause various sounds depending on the friction and their texture and form. Otosclerosis may also cause on-and-off patterned sounds.
Treatment for tinnitus falls into three categories;
- Clinical treatment
- Home and lifestyle remedies
- Alternative medicine
This is refers to forms of treatment administered by a doctor. These include;
- Treating the causative health condition – causative health conditions are those health conditions that contribute to tinnitus. Mayo Clinic identifies the following as causative health treatments;
- Earwax removal
- medication or surgery for cardiovascular condition
- Change of medication in case the medication you are currently using results into tinnitus.
- Noise suppression – noise suppression includes use of electronic gadgets to suppress or redirect attention away from tinnitus. Australian Tinnitus Association identifies the following noise suppression treatments;
- Therapeutic Noise Generators (TNG) – TNG produces simulated environmental sounds such as those of waterfalls, falling rains, ocean waves, etc. This helps to stimulate hair cells of the hearing nerves thus deviating attention from tinnitus.
- Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) – this helps to eventually eliminate tinnitus perception through auditory therapy (that combines hearing aids and TNG) and directory counseling tailored to change negative beliefs and reduce stress.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – This is a three-prong approach administered by clinical psychologists that involves changing a person’s perception of tinnitus, teaching methods of focusing attention away from tinnitus and successful control of tinnitus-related stress.
Home and lifestyle remedies
WebMD recommends the following lifestyle and home remedies;
- Avoid possible triggers – triggers for tinnitus include alcohol, caffeine (coffee), nicotine (tobacco)
- Avoid possible irritants – common irritants sources of loud noise including booming music, factory noise, military gunship noise, etc
- Manage your stress – you can use relaxation therapy, bio-feed and other stress therapies such as yoga and meditation.
Mayo Clinic recommends the following alternative medicines;
- Herbal remedies – gingko biloba
- Zinc supplements
- Vitamin B12
Tinnitus is a symptomatic condition that affects almost 10% of America’s population. It is a condition that may cause deterioration in quality of life and may be a symptom of other diseases such as hypertension, nervous infection, cancer, cardiovascular illness and depression, amongst others. Seeking medical advice from qualified professional soonest possible is the best way to arrest the situation.