What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus refers to ringing or noise in one or both ears that only the affected person can hear it, and is not caused by an external sound. Tinnitus is often a symptom of an underlying condition, such as presbycusis (hearing loss caused by old age) or ear trauma.

Tinnitus, ranging from a low roaring sound to a high squealing pitch, is a common problem affecting around 20% of adults. Although it can be annoying, tinnitus is not a serious problem and can be treated.

Tinnitus is commonly caused by hearing loss, which can result from normal ageing, or from trauma to the cochlea. With tinnitus, the cochlea no longer sends normal impulses to the brain which  generates its own noise to compensate for the absence of normal sound signals.

Most tinnitus occurs due to:

  • Damage to the hearing nerves in the inner ear, which are the nerves responsible for acute hearing
  • Exposure to extremely loud noises in clubs and concerts or from portable music devices, which can cause temporary or permanent tinnitus. This is considered to be the leading cause of tinnitus in young people, and can often lead to hearing damage
  • Other medical conditions include Meniere’s disease, circulatory disorders, cancer, diabetes, overactive thyroid, head and neck injury, and allergy
  • Underlying conditions include middle ear infections, perforation of the ear drum, or fluid build-up in the middle ear

A person with tinnitus often complains of the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Hearing loss
  • Ringing, roaring or buzzing sounds in one or both ears

There are different treatments for tinnitus. ENT doctor needs to assess the patient’s condition to determine the underlying cause and suggest treatment that finds most appropriate.  Treatments may include:

  • Medications including antibiotics, antidepressants, aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs to improve blood circulation to the cochlea, and to treat associated depression
  • Reassurance, which may be enough and no treatment is needed
  • Relaxation exercises to manage muscles and circulation all over the body
  • Use of hearing aids that can help reduce tinnitus
  • Use of other competing sounds such as a ticking clock or running water in order to mask the ringing noise

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