Tinnitus is a ringing sound or other sounds experienced in one or both ears that are not caused by any external source. This condition lasts a few weeks in most people and can also become a chronic problem at certain times. Tinnitus affects 15% – 20% of people, especially adults. Treatment of the underlying cause or other treatments that reduce the ringing or buzzing noise can improve the condition.
What are the symptoms and causes of tinnitus?
Tinnitus can generate a variety of phantom noises in your ears, in addition to ringing sounds even when no external sound is present. The sounds may include:
The sound may be loud enough to impair one’s ability to concentrate or hear outside noises in some circumstances and can stay all the time or come and go.
Tinnitus can sometimes become a repetitive pulsating or whooshing sound, commonly synchronized with the heartbeat. This is called pulsatile tinnitus. When the doctor does an examination, they may be able to hear the pulsatile tinnitus.
Although the actual cause is uncertain, the following are some of the common causes that can lead to tinnitus:
- Hearing loss
- Loud noises that cause stress
- Injuries to the head
- Side effects of medications
- Blood pressure – high or low
- Accumulation of wax in the ear canal
- Accumulation of fluid behind the eardrum
- Heart, blood vessel, neck, jaw, or tooth problems
When should one visit a doctor for tinnitus?
If the patient has any of the following symptoms, they should see an otolaryngologist immediately:
- Tinnitus that sounds or pulses like your heartbeat (pulsatile tinnitus)
- Hearing loss that is abrupt or fluctuating with tinnitus
- Pressure in one or both ears
- Tinnitus that causes dizziness or balance issues
Make an appointment to see a doctor if tinnitus develops after an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, and does not improve within a week.
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What are the possible risk factors and complications of tinnitus?
Tinnitus can affect anyone; however, the following factors may raise the risk:
- Loud noise exposure – Noise-related hearing loss is commonly caused by loud noises such as those produced by heavy machinery, chainsaws, and weapons. Industry and construction workers, musicians, and soldiers are more vulnerable.
- Age – The number of working nerve fibers in the ears decreases as one becomes older, leading to hearing difficulties like tinnitus.
- Sex – Tinnitus affects more men than women.
- Health problems – Tinnitus is more likely to occur if one has obesity, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, or a history of arthritis or a head injury.
It is important to get tinnitus evaluated by a doctor at the earliest, as patients with tinnitus may experience the following:
- Problems with sleep
- Concentration issues
- Problems with memory
- Irritability and anxiety
- Workplace and family life issues
Can tinnitus be prevented?
Certain precautions, however, can help prevent certain types of tinnitus.
- Hearing protection – Try to restrict exposure to loud noises. If you can’t avoid hearing loud noises, you can wear ear protection to safeguard their hearing.
- Turn down the volume – Hearing loss and tinnitus can be caused by long-term exposure to amplified music without ear protection or by listening to music at very high volumes through headphones.
- Cardiovascular health – Tinnitus connected to obesity and blood vessel diseases can be prevented by exercising regularly, eating well, and making efforts to keep the blood vessels healthy by leading a hearty and safe lifestyle.
- Limit alcohol, caffeine and nicotine intake – These chemicals can influence blood flow and cause tinnitus.
How can tinnitus be diagnosed and treated?
Some of the common tests done by a doctor to diagnose tinnitus are as follows:
- Hearing exam (audiology test) – The patient will be asked to sit in a soundproof room wearing earbuds that provide precise sounds to one ear at a time during the exam. When they hear the sound, they will indicate it, and the findings will be compared to those regarded normal for their age.
- Imaging tests – Imaging studies, such as CT or MRI scans may be required depending on the suspected cause of the tinnitus.
- Lab tests – Blood may be drawn to screen for anaemia, thyroid issues, heart disease, or vitamin deficiencies.
If an underlying health problem causes tinnitus, treatment options are limited. However, fixing the underlying condition may help alleviate your symptoms.
- Earwax removal – Tinnitus symptoms can be reduced by removing an earwax blockage.
- Treatment of blood vessel conditions – Underlying blood vessel disorders may necessitate medication, surgery, or other treatments.
- Hearing aids – Hearing aids may improve symptoms if the tinnitus is caused by noise-induced or age-related hearing loss.
- Change in medications – If a patient’s medicine appears to be the source of tinnitus, the doctor may advise to stop taking it or reduce how much they take it, or switch to a different one.
Tinnitus affects people differently and may severely affect some patients’ quality of life. Therefore, it is important to get the symptoms diagnosed as soon as possible to prevent them from getting worse. A steady, high-pitched ringing is the most common type of noise experienced. Even though this can be inconvenient, it is usually not considered a major condition.