Do You Hear A Ringing In Your Ears?
Tinnitus is the annoying sensation of hearing sounds in the ears when no external sound stimulus is present.
There are two types of tinnitus namely subjective tinnitus. where only the person who is suffering from it, can hear it and objective tinnitus where an observer can also hear it with the aid of a stethoscope.
Subjective tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus and can be caused by problems with the hearing nerves, or that part of the brain which interprets nerve signals as sound.
Subjective tinnitus is also caused due to problems in the middle ear compartment like a blockage of the pressure equalization tube (eustachian tube) or as part of new bone formation activity which occurs in a condition called otosclerosis, where there is increased pressure in the biner ear and balance organ as seen in meniere’s disease.
In rare cases when the tinnitus is caused by a blood vessel problem and if it is in rhythm with the heartbeat, it can be heard by another person with the help of a stethoscope placed on the neck or directly over the ear canal.
Tinnitus caused by short-term exposure usually is transient but long-term exposure to loud sound can cause permanent damage
Tinnitus has many causes like age related hearing loss, ear injury, ear damaging drugs, jaw misalignment, ear wax blockage and ear infections or in rare cases, a tumour on the auditory nerve.
Excessive noise exposure is the most common cause of tinnitus. The noise could be from a rock concert, fire crackers bursting too dose to the ear or occupational exposure as in noises from heavy equipment. artillery etc. Portable music devices like MP3 players and iPods also can cause noise induced hearing loss and tinnitus if played for long periods. Tinnitus caused by short- term exposure such as attending a loud concert usually is transient but long- term exposure to loud sound can cause permanent damage.
A pure tone audiometry with an attempt at tinnitus matching should be done with a well trained audiologist after consulting an ENT specialist. If a tumour of the acoustic nerve or blood vessels of the brain is suspected, an MRI evaluation and a high resolution CT scan should be done for complete diagnosis.
Permanent tinnitus in most cases cannot be cured. However, the person can be retrained to get accustomed to the tinnitus with a hearing aid or tinnitus masking device. This device produces a continuous low level white noise like environmental sounds such as falling rain or ocean waves which suppresses the tinnitus symptoms.
For very mild tinnitus that troubles only when ills quiet all around, the noise of fans, air conditioners, etc in the bedroom may help. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a type of counselling that addresses a persons emotional reaction to tinnitus. Presently, there is no known drug or medication that has been clinically proven to be effective for tinnitus.
Ginkgo biloba extract and high doses of vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 have been tried. If tinnitus is associated with nerve weakness which occurs in the young and old. it has to be treated like a mini stroke to dilate the blood vessels and increase blood flow to the sensitive hair cells and nerve fibres. The first 48 to 72 hours is the golden period in such cases to administer vasodilators and steroids intravenously to salvage hearing.
A good pointer in current times is to check if there is a significant difference in the audibility between the two ears when one speaks on the cell phone especially if one ear suddenly feels blocked.
An ENT doctor should be consulted immediately it sudden hearing loss occurs in a previously normal ear, especially if there is no other associated symptoms like pain, fever or discharge from the ear. Sound therapies in general work better in tandem with counselling.
Time To Visit A Doctor
- If you have tinnitus, which bothers you, or if you develop tinnitus after a cold and it does not seem to get better in five days or worsens.
- If you have tinnitus that starts suddenly without an apparent cause or you have hearing loss or dizziness with tinnitus, see an ENT specialist immediately.
- A sudden onset of tinnitus associated with sensorineural hearing loss.
- Use over the ear hearing protection if you are going to be exposed to loud and continuous sound.
- Keep the volume of your music system below 50 per cent of maximum levels.
- Inform your medical practitioner if you have a sensitive ear to avoid taking any ototoxic medication which can worsen your ear further.