What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the sensation of ringing of the ears, when there is no external sound present. It is not a condition in itself, but rather a symptom. Tinnitus cannot be cured but rather can be maintained through certain lifestyle changes.
What are the symptoms associated with tinnitus?
Tinnitus can include the following types of phantom noises in ones ears:
Ringing, clicking, buzzing, roaring or hissing. The noises can vary in pitch and may be experienced in one or both ears., and may be present all the time or may come and go. It may interfere with your ability to concentrate and to hear other sounds.
What causes tinnitus?
There are many things that can cause tinnitus; some preventable and some not.
Preventable causes of tinnitus are:
- Sudden exposure to loud noise. People with jobs such as industrial workers, miners, musicians, carpenters and farmers, are more exposed to sudden loud noises and are therefore at a higher risk of developing tinnitus. One can avoid developing tinnitus by reducing the noise source or protecting your ears with ear plugs or ear muffs.
- Use of certain medications. There are some prescription and non-prescription medications that may cause tinnitus as a side effect. Taking medications such as antibiotics, anti-depressants, aspirin, medications for arthritis as well as rheumatic diseases and certain diuretics may place you under greater risk of developing tinnitus. However, there may be ways to avoid developing the condition by asking your doctor for alternative medications.
Non preventable causes of tinnitus:
- Age related hearing loss. Usually around the age of 60, our hearing worsens. Hearing loss can cause tinnitus.
- Blockage of the ear canal by earwax. A healthy amount of ear wax in your ear protects your ear canal by protecting your inner ear of bacteria and dirt. If too much wax accumulates, it can cause irritation to the eardrum or hearing loss and thus can lead to tinnitus.
- Extreme stress or trauma. Trauma to the head or neck can damage the delicate cells in the inner ear which can lead to hearing loss and thus tinnitus.
- Meniere’s disease. This condition is where there is excess fluid in the inner ear, which disturbs the ears balance and hearing mechanisms and can lead to symptoms such as tinnitus.
How is it diagnosed?
Tinnitus is usually diagnosed by a hearing test done by an audiologist. The audiologist will transmit sounds through a set of earphones to one ear at a time. You then indicate when you hear a sound and your results are compared with results that are considered normal for your age.
In more rare cases, a doctor can actually hear the ringing vibrations through a stethoscope during a physical exam.
Who is mostly at risk?
Those mostly at risk include people who are exposed to loud noises such as construction workers or miners. Also the elderly are at risk as when you age the nerve fibers of your ears get damaged which causes hearing loss and may lead to tinnitus. Also, men are at higher risk than women as well as people who smoke or live in a smoking environment.
How is tinnitus treated?
Your doctor will begin to treat your tinnitus by trying to identify any underlying conditions that may be associated with your symptoms and treating them. Some of these include:
- Earwax or foreign object removal. Removal of earwax from the ear can reduce tinnitus symptoms.
- Changing medications. If you r medications seems to be the cause of tinnitus, your doctor may be able to find an alternative drug or may be able to reduce the dosage in order to reduce the symptoms of your tinnitus.
Another effective form of treating the symptoms of tinnitus is with noise suppression. This helps suppress the internal sounds so that it’s less bothersome. There are certain devices that may help suppress the noise. These include:
- Hearing aids. Hearing aids may be helpful if you experience hearing issues as well as tinnitus.
- Noise suppression devices. These are devices worn in the ear that produce continuous white noise to help mask the symptoms of tinnitus.
- White noise machines. These machines play sounds that simulate environmental sounds such as rainstorms or ocean waves in the background to mask the tinnitus.
What are some lifestyle modifications and home remedies that can help manage tinnitus?
There are no drugs that can in fact cure tinnitus; however there are certain medications that can help cure the severity of symptoms or complications. Such as certain antidepressants and alprazolam. However, due to the lack of evidence to determine their usefulness, it is recommended that lifestyle and home remedies be used rather to help manage the symptoms.
Some of these lifestyle changes include:
- Avoiding possible irritants. This means reducing exposure to things that may worsen your symptoms, such as loud noises, nicotine and caffeine.
- Managing stress. Experiencing stress can make your tinnitus symptoms worse. Relaxation therapy, exercise and stress management are just some ways to provide relief.
- Reducing alcohol consumption. Alcohol causes dilation of your blood vessels causing greater blood flow especially in the inner ear. Drinking less alcohol can help avoid worsening of symptoms.
Coping and support
The first step is to go to a qualified hearing professional or audiologist to be assessed, they will be able to provide support and assistance for living with Tinntius based on years of experience.