Tinnitus is described as a ringing, swishing, or buzzing sound in the ears. It usually isn’t a sign of any serious medical problem, rather an inconvenience.
Rarely however, it can also be a sign of something serious going on in your body.
Statistics say that about 15-20% of adults worldwide have faced tinnitus attacks with an average duration of about 5 minutes.
Tinnitus is usually caused by an underlying condition like ear infections, injuries, or abnormal levels of fluid inside the inner ear.
Age-related hearing loss, poor circulation, & any ear injuries are the most common causes of Tinnitus in general.
In some cases, tinnitus can also occur during or because of, severe migraine attacks.
Tinnitus is usually not that noticeable, unless in certain severe cases where the noise actually starts to interfere with a person’s regular functioning.
Tinnitus is most commonly described as a constant ringing sound in the ears in the absence of any external sounds.
However, Tinnitus can also cause other types of noises in the ear such as:
The sounds that Tinnitus creates vary in pitch & frequency, ranging from quiet to roaring.
Patients can hear it in either one of the ears or both.
Although tinnitus is not a serious condition in most cases, sometimes the sounds can be so loud that they impede an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis.
Tinnitus may either be present at all times, or come & go in intervals.
In some cases, tinnitus sounds can occur in a rhythmic pattern that follows your heartbeat. When this happens, it is called pulsatile tinnitus.
If you have pulsatile tinnitus, there is a chance that your doctor will hear it while doing a physical examination.
Although Tinnitus is not known to have a specific cause, there are certain underlying conditions that can either cause or worsen tinnitus symptoms.
These common causes of tinnitus include:
- Hearing loss: The ear contains tiny hair cells called ochlea that move in response to external sound stimuli. When these hair get loose or broken, they send out random signals to the brain causing tinnitus symptoms. This causes tinnitus sounds in patients.
- Ear infection/ear blockage: The ear canals can become blocked with a buildup of fluids due to an ear infection, accumulation of earwax, dirt or any other foreign materials. Any kind of blockage can cause pressure changes in the ear, leading to tinnitus.
- Head or neck injuries: Any kind of head or neck injuries that impact the nerves essential to hearing functions can also cause tinnitus, although in one ear.
- Medications: Tinnitus can also be the side effect of a ton of medications. The higher the dosage, the worse the tinnitus becomes. If this is the case, stopping these medications generally helps with the tinnitus symptoms.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs & certain antibiotics, cancer drugs, water pills (diuretics), antimalarial drugs and antidepressants are all examples of medications that can cause tinnitus.
There are other causes of tinnitus besides these obvious causes. These other common causes of tinnitus include certain ear problems, some chronic health problems, any injuries or conditions that affect the nerves in the inner ear or the hearing centre in the brain. Some examples include:
- Meniere’s Disease: In some cases tinnitus can be an early indicator of Meniere’s Disease. It is an inner ear disorder that is caused by abnormal levels of fluid inside the inner ear.
- Eustachian tube dysfunction: When this condition occurs, the tube connecting your middle ear to the throat remains expanded all the time, resulting in constant feelings of fullness inside the ear.
- Changes in the ear bone: In some cases, the bones in your middle ear may become stiff, resulting in a condition called otosclerosis. This is usually caused by abnormal bone growth & runs in families. It can cause hearing loss & tinnitus in patients.
- Inner ear muscle spasms: Certain muscles in the inner ear can tense up resulting in tinnitus, hearing loss, & a feeling of fullness in the ear. This can happen due to multiple sclerosis, or by some other unexplainable cause.
- Disorders of the temporomandibular joint: Temporomandibular joint is the joint on each side of your head in front of the ears. This is where your lower jawbone meets your skull, & any deformities of disorders in this joint can cause tinnitus.
- Acoustic Neuroma or any other head or neck tumors: Acoustic neuroma or any other brain or neck tumors that develop on the cranial nerve which runs from the brain to the inner ear, can cause problems with hearing & pressure leading to tinnitus. Any other head or brain tumors can also sometimes cause tinnitus.
- Blood vessel disorders: various conditions that affect your blood vessels like atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, or kinked or malformed blood vessels can lead to blood moving in your arteries with force. These changes in blood vessels can sometimes cause tinnitus.
- Other chronic conditions: In some cases, other chronic conditions like diabetes, thyroid problems, migraines, anemia, & autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis & lupus are also common causes of tinnitus.
Your doctor will ask for a medical history & a detailed description of your symptoms to determine if you indeed have tinnitus.
The tests include:
- Hearing or audiological exams that determine if your hearing is within normal limits & to check for any abnormalities in this range. This can also help your doctors determine a possible cause for your tinnitus.
- Movements tests to determine if your ear & brain are functioning together well, along with imaging tests like the MRI & CT scans to determine any internal damages or causes of the tinnitus.
- Blood work to rule out thyroid, diabetes, or any other hormonal imbalance as the cause for your tinnitus.
Tinnitus treatment includes a variety of medications & treatment plans that focus on treating any underlying conditions that may be causing your tinnitus.
Some treatment examples include:
- Earwax removal & clearing the blocked pathways of the ear,
- Treating an underlying blood vessel condition or circulation issue to improve the blood flow towards ears,
- The use of hearing aids to help with your hearing & drowning tinnitus noise,
- Switching up or stopping medications that cause tinnitus as a side effect.