Tinnitus: Definition, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Tinnitus is generally described as the ringing of the ears. The sound does not come from a source outside the body but is a condition of the ears. While some may think of it as a disease, it is actually a symptom of another underlying problem.
The ringing sound is only heard by the person who has Tinnitus. The sound can be described as a loud or soft high-pitched or low-pitched, steady ring, buzz, hiss, or click. The most common form, however, is the high-pitched, steady ringing sound, and indicates a serious condition.
Symptoms of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is an internal, non-auditory noise it is continuous or intermittent and can be present in one or both ears. Different people experience different sounds such as whistling, whooshing, buzzing, roaring, screeching, clicking, chirping, static, or musical, among other sounds.
Along with the type of sound, the volume of the sound can also fluctuate in Tinnitus. Tinnitus is most notable when it is most quiet, which is generally night time. In some cases, there is also so a concern of hearing loss.
Causes of Tinnitus
As stated above, tinnitus is a symptom and not a disease. It points towards something that is wrong with the auditory system, which comprises the ear, the auditory nerve connecting the brain to the inner ear, and the sound-processing parts of the brain.
Tinnitus can be caused by something as trivial as earwax that blocks the ear canal. However, more often than not it is also due to a number of other health conditions such as the following.
- Sinus infections
- Ear infections
- Noise-induced hearing loss
- Thyroid abnormalities
- Brain tumors
- Heart diseases (including blood vessels)
- Hormonal changes
Tinnitus can also be considered as a primary sign of hearing loss in the elderly. Alternatively, it is also noticed as a side effect of medications. People working in noisy environments could develop Tinnitus with the passage of time, which is known as noise-induced hearing loss.
Shock waves from explosions can damage brain tissue, which could lead to Tinnitus. Pulsatile Tinnitus is the rhythmic pulsing in the ear that is caused due to irregular blood flow in the neck or head regions. Pulsatile Tinnitus can also be caused by abnormal brain structure for brain tumors.
While there could be several possible reasons for the development of Tinnitus, sometimes there is no obvious reason. Most generally, Tinnitus is not an indicator of a health problem but can cause anxiety, fatigue, depression, and other problems if it persists for a long time.
Treatment of Tinnitus
While there is no specific cure for Tinnitus as yet, there are certain treatments that can significantly help people in coping with this condition. Doctors generally prescribe a combination of treatments depending on the severity of the patient's condition. Some of the treatments that doctors offer patients suffering from Tinnitus are as follows.
These devices are specifically prescribed in conditions where hearing loss is evident. Adjusting the Hearing Aid to control external sound levels makes it easier for patients to hear. The theory behind this is that the better or patient ears, the less they may notice their condition of Tinnitus.
Wearable Sound Generators
These are small electronic devices that are placed inside the ear. They create a soft and pleasant sound that helps in masking the Tinnitus.
Tabletop Sound Generators
These devices act as an aid for sleep or relaxation. They are generally placed near the bed and can be programmed to play pleasant sounds such as the sound of rain, waves, summer nights, and waterfalls, among other soothing sounds. This is really helpful for patients suffering from a mild condition of tinnitus.
Counseling programs are aimed at helping patients learn to live with Tinnitus. These programs comprise educational components that help patients in understanding the things that are happening in the brain that cause tinnitus. These programs also help patients in changing the way they think about their condition and react to Tinnitus. In these programs patients also learn about different things that they can do to themselves to decrease the noticeability of the noise. These things help patients suffering from Tinnitus sleep at night or relax during the day.
Acoustic Neural Stimulation
This is a relatively new technique for patients with severely loud or persistent Tinnitus. In this technique, headphones and a palm-sized device are used to deliver acoustic signals that are embedded in music. Acoustic neural stimulation stimulates change in the neural circuits of the brain, which helps in desensitizing patients to Tinnitus.
These implants are used by people who suffer from Tinnitus that is accompanied by severe hearing loss. The cochlear implant bypasses the damaged areas of the inner ear and sends electric signals to stimulate the auditory nerve. The device induces sounds that mask Tinnitus and stimulate neural circuits.