The Sound That No One Else Hears, The Lonely Struggle
Tinnitus is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. A common problem, tinnitus affects about 15 to 20 percent of 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.
Although bothersome, tinnitus usually isn't a sign of something serious. Although it can worsen with age, for many people, tinnitus can improve with treatment. Treating an identified underlying cause sometimes helps. Other treatments reduce or mask the noise, making tinnitus less noticeable.
Tinnitus involves the sensation of hearing sound when no external sound is present. Tinnitus symptoms may include these types of phantom noises in your ears:
The phantom noise may vary in pitch from a low roar to a high squeal, and you may hear it in one or both ears. In some cases, the sound can be so loud it can interfere with your ability to concentrate or hear external sound. Tinnitus may be present all the time, or it may come and go.
Kinds Of Tinnitus
There are two kinds of tinnitus:
Subjective tinnitus is tinnitus only you can hear. This is the most common type of tinnitus. It can be caused by ear problems in your outer, middle or inner ear. It can also be caused by problems with the hearing (auditory) nerves or the part of your brain that interprets nerve signals as sound (auditory pathways).
Objective tinnitus is tinnitus your doctor can hear when he or she does an examination. This rare type of tinnitus may be caused by a blood vessel problem, a middle ear bone condition or muscle contractions.
Causes Of Tinnitus
A number of health conditions can cause or worsen tinnitus. In many cases, an exact cause is never found.
A common cause of tinnitus is inner ear hair cell damage. Tiny, delicate hairs in your inner ear move in relation to the pressure of sound waves. This triggers cells to release an electrical signal through a nerve from your ear (auditory nerve) to your brain. Your brain interprets these signals as sound. If the hairs inside your inner ear are bent or broken, they can "leak" random electrical impulses to your brain, causing tinnitus.
Other causes of tinnitus include other ear problems, chronic health conditions, and injuries or conditions that affect the nerves in your ear or the hearing center in your brain.
In many people, tinnitus is caused by one of these conditions:
Age-related hearing loss: For many people, hearing worsens with age, usually starting around age 60. Hearing loss can cause tinnitus.
Exposure to loud noise: Loud noises, such as those from heavy equipment, chain saws and firearms, are common sources of noise-related hearing loss. Portable music devices, such as MP3 players or iPods, also can cause noise-related hearing loss if played loudly for long periods. Tinnitus caused by short-term exposure, such as attending a loud concert, usually goes away; both short- and long-term exposure to loud sound can cause permanent damage.
Earwax blockage: Earwax protects your ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria. When too much earwax accumulates, it becomes too hard to wash away naturally, causing hearing loss or irritation of the eardrum, which can lead to tinnitus.
Ear bone changes: Stiffening of the bones in your middle ear (otosclerosis) may affect your hearing and cause tinnitus. This condition, caused by abnormal bone growth, tends to run in families.
Medication That Can Cause Tinnitus
A number of medications may cause or worsen tinnitus. Generally, the higher the dose of these medications, the worse tinnitus becomes. Often the unwanted noise disappears when you stop using these drugs. Medications known to cause or worsen tinnitus include:
Antibiotics: including polymyxin B, erythromycin, vancomycin (Vancocin HCL, Firvanq) and neomycin
Cancer medications: including methotrexate (Trexall) and cisplatin
Water pills (diuretics): such as bumetanide (Bumex), ethacrynic acid (Edecrin) or furosemide (Lasix)
Quinine medications: used for malaria or other health conditions
Certain antidepressants: which may worsen tinnitus
Aspirin: taken in uncommonly high doses (usually 12 or more a day)
In addition, some herbal supplements can cause tinnitus, as can nicotine and caffeine.
Anyone can experience tinnitus, but these factors may increase your risk:
Loud noise exposure: Prolonged exposure to loud noise can damage the tiny sensory hair cells in your ear that transmit sound to your brain. People who work in noisy environments — such as factory and construction workers, musicians, and soldiers — are particularly at risk.
Age: As you age, the number of functioning nerve fibers in your ears declines, possibly causing hearing problems often associated with tinnitus.
Sex: Men are more likely to experience tinnitus.
Smoking: Smokers have a higher risk of developing tinnitus.
Cardiovascular problems: Conditions that affect your blood flow, such as high blood pressure or narrowed arteries (atherosclerosis), can increase your risk of tinnitus.
Tinnitus can significantly affect quality of life. Although it affects people differently, if you have tinnitus, you may also experience:
Anxiety and irritability
Treating these linked conditions may not affect tinnitus directly, but it can help you feel better.
Hearing loss and tinnitus !
Hearing loss is a common factor underlying tinnitus, although some people with normal hearing may also experience tinnitus. Loss of hearing is often an unnoticeable and gradual process and many people are surprised when they are told that they have a hearing loss. It is quite common for people to assume incorrectly that it is their tinnitus rather than their hearing loss that is causing hearing difficulties.
Do hearing aids work for tinnitus?
Patients with hearing loss and tinnitus may find relief from the use of hearing aids and other sound amplification devices.
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