We often hear about people who have “ringing in their ears”, but we don’t really know what it implies. Some say it’s the brain that is malfunctioning, others say it’s the ear. Does it provoke hearing loss or not? And is it caused by loud noises or is it a symptom related to an illness?
Why I wanted to talk about this
I began experiencing ringing in my ears a few years ago. At first, it was once in a while but now it happens every day. Some days are worse than others, but I basically live with tinnitus constantly. A symptom of Fibromyalgia, I accepted it as a permanent, yet annoying, part of my life.
It seems to get worse when I am tired, and that’s why I had to cut down on my writings. If I try to push it, the ringing, hissing or rushing worsen. It weakens my concentration, and I become very tired. But I still live a pretty normal life, and I am thankful for everything I have. So enough about me and let’s get on with it.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus also called ringing in the ear, is a condition characterized by whistling, rushing, ringing, swishing or other noises that come from either one or both ears, or the head. In reality, it has no external sources. The sounds heard by tinnitus sufferers can be continuous or intermittent, and the intensity can vary.
Affecting an estimated 50 million adults in the United States, tinnitus can cause people to be affected in their work or personal relationships. The sounds can become so high that some may have difficulty concentrating or sleeping. They can even suffer from psychological distress because of it.
Who can have tinnitus?
Previously known as the condition of old age, researchers have discovered that tinnitus can be experienced by people of any age, but there are specific groups of people that are more susceptible to develop it. They are:
- White people
- People over 65
- People with age-related hearing illnesses
- People who have been exposed to long periods of loud noises
- People with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
What can cause tinnitus?
Tinnitus is not an illness or a disease in and of itself but is rather a manifestation of a problem with the ear or the hearing pathways to the brain. It usually occurs when the inner ear is damaged or injured. Here are some of the causes:
- Prolonged exposure to loud noises (the most common cause)
- Ear infections
- Head or neck injuries
- Wax build-up in the ear
- A result of other health problems like Meniere’s disease, high blood pressure or Fibromyalgia
- Side effect of medications like aspirin, antibiotics, anti-depressants or anti-inflammatories
Tinnitus can get worse in people who drink alcohol, caffeinated beverages or spicy foods. Stress and fatigue can also make tinnitus worse. In this case, a lot of rest is known to help relieve the symptoms. 90% of cases, people with tinnitus can also have hearing loss.
How is it diagnosed?
To diagnose tinnitus, your physician will prescribe a series of tests and do a physical examination. He will check for wax, hair or foreign objects in your ear. Lastly, your doctor will ask you a list of questions to know your symptoms as well as a family and medical history.
Some of the tests will include an audiogram (hearing test), a CT scan, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or an auditory brain stem response (ABR).
How is tinnitus treated?
If tinnitus is a symptom of a treatable illness, it will usually disappear when the primary disease is gone. But if the underlying condition isn’t found or not curable, like with Fibromyalgia or permanent hearing damage, there could be ways to help suppress or reduce the sounds.
White noise machines, hearing aids, and masking devices could be some solutions. Relaxation techniques also could be considered. Some medications like anxiolytics or antidepressants can also be of help. Click here to see the complete list of treatments options, presented by the American Tinnitus Association (ATA).
The visual guide to tinnitus
I found this great infographic that provides useful information about tinnitus. It was created by the U.K. branch of the worldwide hearing specialist Amplifon, dedicated to assisting people with hearing loss. Here are the highlights of the infographic:
- What sounds may a tinnitus sufferer hear?
- How does tinnitus happen?
- Key facts
|Infographic by Amplifon|
Living with tinnitus can make life pretty complicated. It can be very annoying and frustrating. Also, hearing loss can cause other problems, especially at work. Hearing some noises that nobody can hear can be distracting when you try to concentrate.
Over to you
Do you know someone who suffers from tinnitus? Or are you suffering from this yourself? Please, share your personal experiences with us in the comment box below!