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Tinnitus

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Tinnitus is the medical term for noises or ringing heard in the ear and not from outside sound sources. Tinnitus in itself is not an illness but rather a symptom of another condition such as ear injury, hearing loss such as those related to aging, or circulatory problems. A fairly common problem, it affects one in every five people.

TINNITUS SYMPTOMS

Tinnitus symptoms improve when the underlying condition is treated. Some treatments will involve masking the sound tinnitus produces. Sound levels vary for each case of tinnitus – with some cases experiencing only a mild background noise while some experiencing a loud sound audible over other sounds. Those with tinnitus may find working, listening or sleeping due to the sounds they hear. Some may experience it briefly while for others it can be a persistent problem. Although the exact mechanism of tinnitus is still not fully understood, it is not merely a psychological problem of the one suffering from tinnitus but a physiological or neurological problem which have yet to be fully understood.

Though commonly referred to as “ringing in the ears”, the sound heard when experiencing tinnitus have been described in different ways. Some report buzzing, roaring similar to waves, whooshing, cricket noises, hissing, ticking or clicking, or even beeping. Sometimes the sound can be intermittent while others suffer from a continuous sound in their ears. It is commonly experienced in both ears, but it may occasionally occur in one ear alone and may be a sign of a more serious condition. It may be experienced suddenly or it can gradually intensify over time.

TINNITUS DIAGNOSIS

There are 2 basic types of tinnitus – objective and subjective. Objective tinnitus is tinnitus where an external observer (such as a doctor) can actually hear the sound itself. This can be observed in pulsatile tinnitus where the sound is a rhythmic (often in time with the heartbeat) beat that may be caused by blood circulation. The sound of blood flowing near the ear may be the source of tinnitus in this case. This kind of tinnitus may be a symptom of circulatory or heart conditions such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and turbulent blood flow or head and neck tumors which may affect blood vessels.

TINNITUS CAUSES

Subjective tinnitus is the type of tinnitus where others cannot hear the sound and may be caused by problems within in the ear itself. Causes may include problems in the ear canal or the eardrum such as earwax blockage, hair touching the ear drums, change in the ear bones or possibly a condition of the cochlea, found in the inner ear. Some of these conditions include Meniere’s disease, which is caused by abnormal cochlear fluid pressure. This may also cause vertigo and hearing loss. Tinnitus may also be experienced as a result of acoustic neuroma. Acoustic neuroma is the growth of a benign tumor on the cranial nerve which connects the inner to the brain, and is the nerve responsible to transmitting sound signal to the brain and for keeping balance. This condition typically causes tinnitus in one ear.
Tinnitus
Image: Tinnitus


Other causes include stress or depression, where anxiety and other emotional stresses may aggravate the sounds heard. Injuries to the head and neck may damage nerves and may also cause tinnitus. The damaged nerves may send false signals to the brain which it may incorrectly interpret as sounds when there is none. Taking certain drugs and medication such as antibiotics, quinine, aspirin, diuretics and aspirin may also cause or increase tinnitus.

Tinnitus may also come about as a symptom of age-related hearing loss or as a consequence of prolonged exposure to loud noises or music. Short term exposure may lead to tinnitus that only lasts for a short while. However prolonged and continuous exposure may result in permanent damage.

TINNITUS TREATMENT

Various ways have been used to treat tinnitus. Clearing the ear canal of ear wax may help reduce the sound level. For tinnitus resulting from cardiovascular conditions, tinnitus usually goes away or is reduced as the heart or circulation condition is treated or managed. The doctor may also advise new medication if it is determined that current medication aggravates one’s tinnitus.

For stress-related tinnitus, counseling and therapy may help reduce anxieties which aggravate tinnitus. The patient may be reassured that tinnitus is a common condition and that it is easily treated. Antidepressant therapy may be necessary for extreme cases when the patient is suffering a lot from tinnitus, and it may also help in reducing the sound itself.

Tinnitus may also be masked by using devices which produce white noise such as waves or rain which help distract you from the continuous tinnitus or completely mask it by overwhelming the sound with another. The doctor may also recommend the use of hearing aids to help increase hearing, thus making other sounds loud enough to drown out tinnitus.


Proper care of your ears and your sense of hearing can help prevent tinnitus and related conditions. Avoid listening to portable music players at high volumes for extended periods of time, and use earplugs or similar tools to protect your hearing when exposed to loud noises such as gunshots, construction or explosions.

Avoid focusing on the noise. Music may help shift your attention away from the noises, and also helps mask the sound. Do not be stressed when tinnitus occurs for an extended period of time, as anxiety will only seem to aggravate the effects of the sound on your concentration.

Maintain your cardiovascular well-being by avoiding high salt intake, cholesterol-rich food, and alcohol. Get treatment for your conditions as tinnitus may only be a symptom of these cardiovascular problems. If your tinnitus is caused by blood vessel abnormalities near the ear then the doctor may prescribe surgery to correct these issues.

Avoid being too vigorous in cleaning the surface of your ear canal, as injury to the eardrums or the ear canal can not only result in tinnitus but possibly hearing loss as well. This may even aggravate tinnitus by possibly inducing ear wax impaction as a result of the irritation.
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