EAR, NOSE & THROAT
Tinnitus, commonly known as ringing in your ears, affects over 50 million people. Many of us have been around a teapot that is whistling with boiling water; or heard a bell ring. Imagine hearing that sound consistently in your ears. That is what someone with tinnitus is experiencing. It is a perception because there is no actual sound being projected that causes the ringing. Tinnitus can be mild or severe. Problematic tinnitus affects 20 million people, and the condition debilitates nearly 2 million Americans. Tinnitus is not only ringing. You may hear hissing, buzzing, or clicking sounds. It may be a temporary or ongoing condition but is important to understand the facts.
There Are Two Types: Subjective & Objective
- Subjective tinnitus is only perceivable to the person experiencing it. It can be a result of hearing loss. Over 99% of the cases of tinnitus are subjective. There is about 1% of cases that are objective.
- Objective tinnitus is a form of tinnitus that is audible to other people. The ringing you hear comes from the body. This ringing may come from blood flow or the movement of the muscle and bones in the body.
Ear infections and bone disorders are other symptoms that may cause ringing in the ears. Problems like ear infections are resolved with antibiotics but in the case of bone disorders, treatment may not be possible. Rare causes of tinnitus are associated with other health issues. Tumors in the head or neck can lead to the sensation of ringing in the ears. Cardiovascular problems have a big impact on the ear. When blood flow increases or blood pressure is elevated, the beating can be heard in the ears; this beating may lead to ringing in the ears.
Loud noises may bring temporary tinnitus. It can be a symptom of hearing loss, injury, or in the case of objective tinnitus, circulatory disorders. As you age, tinnitus can get worse. Tinnitus can be a symptom of broken hair follicles in the cochlea. If the hair follicles do not move appropriate to the sound vibrations, tinnitus can occur from miscued signals.
Although tinnitus is not life-threatening, it can have a tremendous impact on your quality of life. Any ongoing health condition is draining. Many people with tinnitus suffer from both depression and anxiety. It affects mood and behavior. A person with tinnitus is susceptible to mood swings and tend to be easily frustrated. Sleep is also an issue. That constant ringing sound makes it difficult to relax and fall asleep. Most people dealing with tinnitus do not have debilitating symptoms. It is more of an annoyance than anything.
Upon examination, a physician may have you do an auditory test. In this test, you put on headphones and listen for sounds in the left and right ear. When you hear a sound, you are supposed to raise your hand on the side the sound is coming from. With tinnitus, you may hear sounds that are not coming from the headphones. Facial movements is another method of examination. If movements of the neck or face change the intensity of the ringing in your ears, it may reveal where the underlying cause of tinnitus. MRI and CT scans are used to show whether or not tumors or other health conditions are the sources.
Treatment varies depending on the cause. If cardiovascular issues are the primary reason, a cardiologist may be the one to treat the problem. Being put on blood pressure medication will help bring the blood pressure down and, therefore, diminish the beating sound heard in the ears. Ear infections are easily treated with antibiotics or ear drops. For those who have recurrent ear infections, tubes may be surgically placed in the ears. Medication changes may be an easy fix to the tinnitus. Auditory related treatment includes the use of white noise or hearing aids. Using sound to treat noise may seem odd, but it helps replace the ringing sounds and can even be helpful in falling asleep.
If you are experiencing ringing in your ears, you should know that you are not alone. It is a condition common among Americans. The source of tinnitus is different for everyone. It is not something you should ignore. Do not assume it will just go away or that it is only due to hearing loss. It can be a result of a more severe condition. Treatment may be as simple as a change in medication, or it may be surgery, especially in the case of tumor-related tinnitus. Whatever the source is, tinnitus is typically treatable, and you are still able to have a high quality of life.
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