At some stage of our lives, we are all likely to experience ringing in our ears when there is no apparent source of a sound. It may be evident coming home from a rock concert, or for a short period as a result of a sudden extreme noise, such as a gun discharging nearby.
Unfortunately for many people, this buzzing or ringing sound can be persistent, intermittent, and prolonged. This is a condition known as tinnitus, which can cause frustration and great distress.
Tinnitus is not a disease in itself but rather a reflection of something else that is going on in the hearing system or brain.
Causes of Tinnitus
Most commonly, tinnitus is related to hearing loss. Current theories suggest that because the cochlea is no longer sending the normal signals to the brain, the brain becomes confused and essentially develops its own noise to make up for the lack of normal sound signals. This then is interpreted as a sound, tinnitus.
Tinnitus can be made worse by anything that makes our hearing worse, such as ear infection or excess wax in the ear. Other causes of Tinnitus include trauma to the ear resulting from:
• Loud noise exposure
• Adverse reaction to medications and drugs such as aspirin, antibiotics and quinine
• A symptom of Meniere’s disease, which can also cause dizziness, nausea, and fluctuating hearing loss
• A rare cause is a certain type of brain tumour known as an acoustic neuroma. The tumours grow on the nerve that supplies hearing and can cause tinnitus. This type of tinnitus is usually only noticed in one ear
• Pregnancy, anaemia and an overactive thyroid can cause certain types of tinnitus
• Benign intracranial hypertension – an increase in the pressure of the fluid surrounding the brain
• Jaw joint misalignment or muscles of the ear or throat ‘twitching’ can cause a ‘clicking’ type of tinnitus
• Stress and fatigue can sometimes worsen the symptoms of tinnitus, as can caffeine, smoking and alcohol
Treatments for tinnitus
Most cases of tinnitus should be evaluated by an Ear, Nose, and Throat physician to be sure that the tinnitus is not caused by another treatable problem. While research has yet to discover a cure, but there are a number of treatments to help tinnitus sufferers manage the condition. If hearing loss is present, a hearing aid is likely to reduce the problem. Some wearers report that hearing aids have completely alleviated their condition.
Another option to help people manage is the use of a Therapeutic Noise Generator, a device which looks like a hearing aid and is recommended for people with no hearing loss. It produces a blend of external sounds which stimulate fibres of the hearing nerve, helping deviate attention away from the tinnitus.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), offered by clinical psychologists, can also be effective in alleviating distress and adapting to tinnitus. CBT is threefold: changing the way a person perceives tinnitus; teaching ways to focus attention away from tinnitus; and achieving control over stress.
For the vast majority of people there is no specific surgical procedure that provides a treatment for tinnitus. However, following successful surgical treatment for some ear problems, tinnitus may sometimes disappear (e.g. otosclerosis, middle ear effusion).
Accurate diagnosis and treatment of Meniere’s disease may also result significantly reduced tinnitus.
Unfortunately, research has yet to discover a cure for Tinnitus, but your local Adelaide Digital Hearing Solutions clinic can provide you with guidance to help you manage your Tinnitus condition. A clinical assessment is recommended for those who experience the symptoms of Tinnitus, call 1300 674 934, or click here to book a Tinnitus assessment at no cost*.
*No cost hearing assessments are only available to persons aged 26 years or older.