Ear Doctor Shares 5 Facts about Tinnitus

In this video from The House Ear Institute, Dr. John House explains five useful things to know about tinnitus. Tinnitus is most often associated with hearing loss, and the number two cause of hearing loss after aging is exposure to loud noise.

Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Tinnitus: Symptoms, Causes, and More

Tinnitus can be a baffling and complex condition. This comprehensive guide is designed to help you understand tinnitus, its symptoms, causes, and much more.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a condition characterized by the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. It's not a disease itself, but a symptom of an underlying condition. It's a relatively common problem, affecting about 15% to 20% of people. It is particularly prevalent among older adults. While the noise individuals with tinnitus perceive is not caused by an external sound, and it's usually inaudible to other people. Tinnitus can be a persistent condition that affects the quality of life for those who experience it, disrupting concentration, sleep patterns, and mood.

Understanding Tinnitus Symptoms

The primary symptom of tinnitus is auditory perception that lacks an external source. Most people describe this as a ringing sound, but tinnitus can manifest in various forms. The perceived sound can vary in pitch from a low roar to a high squeal and can be heard in one or both ears. In some cases, the sound can be so loud that it interferes with the individual's ability to concentrate or hear real external sounds.

Tinnitus is often described as:
  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Humming

In rare cases, tinnitus can appear as a rhythmic pulsing or whooshing sound, often in time with the heartbeat. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus.

When to Seek Medical Attention for Tinnitus

It’s advisable to seek medical attention if you experience tinnitus symptoms that bother you or if they disrupt your normal daily activities. Schedule an appointment with your doctor if:

  • Your tinnitus develops following an upper respiratory infection such as a cold, and does not improve after a week.
  • You have hearing loss or dizziness along with tinnitus.
  • Your tinnitus is associated with anxiety or depression.

Causes of Tinnitus

Tinnitus is often the result of underlying health conditions. Some of the most common causes include:
  • Age-Related Hearing Loss: As individuals age, the number of functioning nerve fibers in the ears decreases. This decline can cause hearing problems that are often associated with tinnitus.
  • Ear Infection or Ear Canal Obstruction: Ear canals can become obstructed due to a buildup of fluid (ear infection), earwax, dirt, or other foreign materials. This obstruction can alter the pressure in the ear, leading to tinnitus.
  • Head or Neck Injuries: Trauma to the head or neck can impact the inner ear, hearing nerves, or brain functions related to hearing, leading to tinnitus. Such injuries typically cause tinnitus in only one ear.
  • Medications: Certain medications may cause or worsen tinnitus. Generally, the higher the dosage of these medications, the worse tinnitus becomes. Medications known to cause tinnitus include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), some antibiotics, certain cancer drugs, diuretics, certain antimalarial drugs, and certain antidepressants.

Other Causes of Tinnitus

Apart from the above, other less common causes of tinnitus include:

  • Meniere’s disease: An inner ear disorder possibly caused by abnormal inner ear fluid pressure.

  • Eustachian tube dysfunction: A condition where the tube in the ear connecting the middle ear to the upper throat remains expanded all the time.

  • Ear bone changes: Stiffening of the bones in the middle ear, a condition known as otosclerosis.

  • Muscle spasms in the inner ear: Muscles in the inner ear can tense up, leading to tinnitus, hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness in the ear.

  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders: Problems with the TMJ can cause tinnitus.

  • Acoustic neuroma or other head and neck tumors: Acoustic neuroma is a noncancerous tumor that develops on the cranial nerve that runs from the brain to the inner ear and controls balance and hearing.

  • Other head, neck, or brain tumors can also cause tinnitus: Blood vessel disorders: Conditions that affect blood vessels can cause tinnitus or make tinnitus more noticeable.

Risk Factors for Tinnitus

Tinnitus can affect anyone, but certain factors can increase the risk. These include:

  • Loud noise exposure: Exposure to loud sounds can cause hearing loss and tinnitus. Long-term exposure to amplified music without ear protection or listening to loud music through headphones can cause noise-related hearing loss and tinnitus.

  • Age: The risk of tinnitus increases with age, mainly due to cumulative noise exposure or age-related hearing loss.

  • Sex: Men are more likely to experience tinnitus.

  • Smoking and alcohol use: These substances can affect blood flow and contribute to tinnitus.

Potential Complications of Tinnitus

Tinnitus can significantly affect an individual’s life quality. People with tinnitus may experience:

  • Fatigue

  • Stress

  • Sleep problems

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Memory problems

  • Depression

  • Anxiety and irritability

Preventing Tinnitus

In many instances, tinnitus is the result of something that can’t be prevented. However, some precautions can help prevent certain types of tinnitus.

  • Use hearing protection: Over time, exposure to loud sounds can damage the nerves in the ears, causing hearing loss and tinnitus.

  • Turn down the volume: Long-term exposure to amplified music with no ear protection or listening to music at very high volume through headphones can cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

  • Take care of your cardiovascular health: Regular exercise, eating right, and taking other steps to keep your blood vessels healthy can help prevent tinnitus linked to blood vessel disorders.

With the right knowledge and support, tinnitus can be managed effectively. If you or a loved one is experiencing tinnitus symptoms, it is vital to consult a healthcare professional to identify the underlying cause and commence appropriate treatment.

Ear Doctor Explains Causes for Tinnitus

In this video from The House Ear Institute, Dr. Derebery shares her knowledge on what causes tinnitus.

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