Know the Basics
Tinnitus is a disease that affects 15 to 20 percent of people, and yet most people don’t know much about it. In this article, we’ll talk about what it is, what different types there are, what causes it, as well as the symptoms, risks, and the treatment for tinnitus.
Tinnitus is hearing a noise that isn’t present. Often called a “phantom noise“, this could be a symptom of an underlying condition. Usually this isn’t a sign of anything serious, but it could worsen with age. In many cases, treatment of tinnitus involves addressing the underlying condition.
There are a number of types of tinnitus. Treatment for tinnitus will depend on what type you have.
- Subjective tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus, and this is caused by exposure to loud noises. This is something that could come and go, or vary in length and intensity. It could also cause inconvenience because it makes hearing anything that isn’t the phantom noise a struggle.
- Sensory tinnitus is a sub-type of subjective tinnitus. It is a side effect of an impairment in the auditory system, and there’s no known cure for it. However, there are management programs available for this condition and hearing aids that would mask the noises.
- Somatic tinnitus is related to muscle spasms or physical movement in the ear, jaw, or neck. Sound therapy and massage therapy are useful for this kind.
- Objective tinnitus is the rarest type and the only type that can be heard by outside observers through a stethoscope. This type of tinnitus is caused by cardiovascular disorders.
Causes and Symptoms
What Causes Tinnitus?
As mentioned above, tinnitus is more of a symptom of a condition rather than a condition in itself. There is a myriad of health disorders that could either cause or exacerbate tinnitus. However, the exact cause of tinnitus is often never found.
One of the most common causes is damaged inner ear hair cells. Inside the ears, there are hairs that are sensitive to sound wave pressure that then triggers a signal to be sent to your brain. This signal is sent through the auditory nerve. And once it reaches the brain, it is interpreted as sound. If these hairs are damaged, they may be sending phantom signals along the auditory nerve. And it is these phantom signals that the brain interprets as random noises.
Conditions that Cause Tinnitus
Some general causes of tinnitus are ear problems, chronic health conditions or even injuries that affect your ear or nerves. And solving these underlying conditions can lead to a treatment for tinnitus.
One common cause is age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis. This condition often happens around the age of 60. Constant exposure to loud noises such as firearms and heavy equipment could also cause tinnitus. Even short-term exposure to these loud noises could cause temporary hearing loss and tinnitus.
Physical blockages, like earwax that lead to hearing loss and irritated eardrums, could cause tinnitus as well. Having ear bone changes, or otosclerosis, where the bones in the middle ear stiffen and cause abnormal growth can also cause tinnitus.
Other causes could be much more complex conditions like:
- acoustic neuroma
- eustachian tube dysfunction
- Meniere’s disease
- muscle spasms
- blood vessel disorders like atherosclerosis, arteriovenous malformation, hypertension, and turbulent blood flow due to narrowed carotids
Some medication could also cause or exacerbate tinnitus, especially in higher doses. But if this is the cause, the tinnitus should go away once you stop taking the medication. Antibiotics, aspirin in high doses, cancer medication, certain antidepressants, water pills, and quinine medications are some common medications that could be linked with tinnitus.
What Are the Symptoms of Tinnitus?
The symptoms of tinnitus revolve around the phantom noise or a sensation of hearing sound when there is nothing to be actually perceived. This sound could vary in pitch and volume and could be described as buzzing, clicking, hissing, humming, ringing, or even roaring in either or both ears.
In extreme cases, tinnitus can interfere with your day-to-day life by causing difficulty in the perception of external sound. Other times, it may affect your ability to concentrate. It may also cause sleep disruption both in adults and children.
What Increases My Risk for Tinnitus?
Although virtually anyone is at risk for tinnitus, there are certain factors that elevate this risk.
Prolonged exposure to loud noises is a risk factor. Chronic and prolonged exposure makes this even worse.
Aging is also a factor. As you age, nerve fibers decline and that causes hearing problems or general perception problems, including tinnitus.
Men, statistically, are also more likely to develop tinnitus. And smokers are high-risk as well. Having cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure or narrowed arteries could also put you at a higher risk for tinnitus.
How Do You Prevent Tinnitus?
If you are exposed to loud noises on a regular basis, using hearing protection could be effective in preventing any damage to your ears.
Lowering or turning down the volume when using headphones can also lower the risk of hearing loss.
Making lifestyle decisions like eating right and maintaining a good level of activity keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. And this prevents cardiovascular diseases that are linked with tinnitus.
What Is the Treatment for Tinnitus?
Treatment for tinnitus focuses on identifying the underlying condition and treating this. By diagnosing through a hearing audiological exam, imaging tests, and checking if movement makes the tinnitus worse or better, the underlying cause could be diagnosed as well.
Any clicking sounds could indicate muscle contractions as a cause. Meanwhile, hearing humming or sounds in synchrony with the heartbeat could indicate a blood vessel problem. Low-pitched phantom noises that get very loud before a vertigo episode could be caused by Meniere’s disease. But phantom noises in a higher register could be caused by an acoustic neuroma, excessive noise exposure, or hearing loss. Finally, other noises could point to physical causes like earwax blockages and otosclerosis.
Living with tinnitus is a struggle, but there are plenty of resources available to make it easier for you or someone you love to live their lives to the fullest.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.