You know when you’re lying in bed, just about to doze off, and the one mosquito that made it through your fortress-like defenses begins circling your head – then begins that annoying buzzing sound. Now, imagine that lasting for hours on end as you walk around the city, sit at your desk in the office, or try to enjoy a family meal at home on the weekend. Welcome to the world of tinnitus. It is not a pleasant experience.
Tinnitus (TIN-ih-tus) is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. A common problem, tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 people. Tinnitus isn’t a condition itself — it’s a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder.
What exactly is tinnitus?
A ringing/ hissing/ buzzing sound in the ear, is probably not something new to many of us, but this sound or sensation usually only lasts for a few minutes as a minor annoyance and then goes away before it’s really had the chance to boost our blood pressure, but for those who suffer from tinnitus, the annoyance becomes a serious, sometimes permanent problem. For those aged 40 and above, tinnitus is more common, as it is among men, and there are two primary types of the condition that most sufferers have to endure. There might be a rhythmic feel to the sound, almost as though it’s in time with your heart rate or breathing, or it may be constant. It might last a short while, or it could go on for extended periods of time so that many sufferers really experience genuine hearing loss, not to mention incredible frustration. It could be in one ear, or it could be in both.
Referring to the ‘pulse’ created by the heart pumping blood around the body, this form of tinnitus is created either by muscle movement close to the ear itself, abnormal developments in the ear canal, or by vascular issues in the face/ neck area. Pulsatile tinnitus often affects only one ear.
This is caused by problems with the nervous system with regards to the areas involved in processing sound. This form of tinnitus can affect one ear or both.
More often than not, the cause of tinnitus is general hearing loss that comes with age, but lengthy exposure to noisy environments can also be a contributing factor in the condition’s development. Almost any form of hearing disorder can cause tinnitus, but there are still many other possibilities out there in terms of what could be the source of this extremely frustrating problem:
Certain medications (such as antibiotics or excessive doses of aspirin)
Excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption
Dental/ mouth-related problems
Physical trauma to the ear, neck, or head
Sudden changes in air pressure
Dangerous levels of weight loss
Repetitive neck muscle stress due to exercise
Other diseases such as acoustic neuroma, anemia, labyrinthitis, Meniere’s
Disease, otosclerosis, and thyroid disease
Diagnosis and Treatment:
Given the obvious nature of the primary symptoms of tinnitus, a simple consultation with an ENT doctor is enough to get a confirmed diagnosis, but as we’ve seen, the causes are so widespread that pinpointing the precise moment you ‘got tinnitus’ is almost certainly impossible, unless you’ve been wrapped in a bubble your entire life only to be let out once, and it was then that you look a basketball to the side of the face. However, even the most severe cases of tinnitus don’t require any medical treatment, so you win by avoiding medical procedures and their associated costs, but you lose because you just have to deal with it and get on with your life.
Sure, there’s no cure, and it’s far from the end of the world, but it can cause serious frustration and discomfort to the sufferer, so there are support groups and there’s ENT advice that can help sufferers live with the condition in a more manageable way so as to minimize misery, and isn’t that what medicine is all about?
In a nutshell, we should always learn to properly care for our ears to prevent further ear damage as well as other related conditions/illnesses.