The human body is a complex machine, and just like any machine, it can break down. Your auditory system, the ears, are not exempted from this rule. One of the symptoms that you have a problem with your auditory system is tinnitus.
Tinnitus is not only frustrating, but it can also distract you from hearing other sounds. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with tinnitus. But before that, we need to explain what it is, the causes, and finally, the treatment.
What is Tinnitus?
Did you ever hear a sound that is persistent despite having no external causes? You might think that it’s all in your head—and that is indeed the case. If you recognize these signs, you have the primary symptom of tinnitus.
For many, it resembles a ringing sound, but for a few, it sounds like a truck engine, roaring, buzzing, hissing, or even a shriek. The sound is within your head, but sometimes it can also resemble a distant sound. It can also appear to be changing pitches, pulsating, or constant.
Young or old, many have experienced tinnitus at some point in their lives. For example, after hearing an extremely loud noise, you can hear a ringing sound. Some medications are also known to cause tinnitus, such as cancer drugs, diuretics, antidepressants, and certain antibiotics.
It can also occur with anxiety, depression, and stress. However, in these cases, It is temporary and will go away after a short time. On the other hand, if the sound continues to persist or is a daily occurrence, then it is chronic tinnitus.
About 50 million Americans suffer from chronic tinnitus, and it is especially common from age 50 and above. It is typically associated with going deaf, but fortunately, there are rare cases.
Hearing loss is not tinnitus, and there are signs of hearing loss that you can check. If you are worrying that you have hearing loss, don’t worry there is a treatment, especially if it’s sensorineural hearing loss.
What Happens To The Ear If You Have Tinnitus?
As your ear picks up sounds waves, it then moves to the eardrum and down to the inner ear. Within the inner ear, there are tiny cells that convert the mechanical movement to electrical signals. These electrical are then sent to the brain, and then the brain interprets them as sound.
So if any of these parts are damaged, the sound waves cannot be properly transmitted. If there is no proper transmission, the electrical signals will misinterpret the sound. And when the electric signals are convoluted, the brain cannot process them.
Think of sounds like data. If the internet doesn’t download sound correctly, the computer cannot interpret it properly. So two things can happen, either the computer can’t read the data, or the sound comes out static.
Have you ever heard static on the radio? It’s something similar to that when your brain cannot interpret the sound correctly. But unlike the radio, you cannot turn it off.
Tinnitus can sound different for anyone, and so they classify it into different types.
Subjective tinnitus is the most common form. It typically appears when an individual is exposed to high-volume noise. This tinnitus will appear suddenly but will go away on its own.
In severe cases, the sound will continue for 3 to 12 months. But the worst part is that it may never stop, but it is rare.
Objective tinnitus happens when not only can you hear the noise, but others also can. It is caused by involuntary vascular deformities or muscle contractions. Since it is with the body, there is constant sound feedback to your ears.
Outside observers can also hear the noise if they are using a stethoscope. When that’s the case, medical professionals can fix the problem.
Neurological tinnitus is caused by disorders such as Meniere’s disease. Any condition that affects the auditory system may cause tinnitus.
Somatic tinnitus is caused by underlying somatic disorders. It is triggered when there are complex interactions of the auditory and somatosensory afferents. The problem exists in the musculoskeletal system rather than of the ear.
Managing this tinnitus is quite complex since it is difficult to diagnose. In some cases, doctors can treat it, but sometimes it can only be managed.
There are several causes of tinnitus, and here are some of them:
Exposure To High-Volume Noise
Frequently exposed to high-volume noise can cause tinnitus; 90% of tinnitus results from the exposure. As the high-volume noise enters the ears, your middle or inner ear gets damaged. The noises cause to the sound-sensitive parts of the ear, but mainly, your cochlea.
If you work in a high-volume noise environment, protect your ears as often as you can.
When a person’s hearing is affected because of certain medications, it is called ototoxicity. It mainly happens if the person is exposed to high doses of medications. Typically, it is either cancer medications, infections, or other medications for illnesses.
If the doctors find ototoxicity early on, they can fix it or prevent it from getting worse. So tell your doctor if you think you are having hearing loss or tinnitus from your medications. They will send you to an audiologist to confirm it and perhaps fix it if they find any problems.
It is not a disease, but rather, it is a symptom of possibly an underlying health condition. Health conditions that may cause tinnitus are the following:
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Head and Neck Trauma
- Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Certain Allergies
Note that if you have tinnitus, it doesn’t mean that you have any of these diseases above.
How Do Doctors Diagnose?
The doctor will examine your ears by conducting hearing tests. If there is anything amiss, they will send you to an audiologist for a more detailed examination. The audiologist will then test each ear using headphones.
The sound can depend on your age and sex bracket. If they find the causes are inconclusive, they will conduct some MRI or CT scans to see if some physical deformities or damages are causing tinnitus.
To learn more about tinnitus, contact ENT Allergy & Sinus Center.