Some individuals experience a ringing or buzzing noise in the ears on occasion, but if it continues long-term, it could be tinnitus. There is not currently a cure, but after a doctor has diagnosed the condition, identifying the cause can help guide treatment that may ease the discomfort and irritation people with tinnitus experience.
People with tinnitus describe the noises they hear in different ways. Some categorize it as a humming sound, while others hear a buzzing. Individuals may also describe a whistling or hissing noise, or even a grinding within the ear.
Temporary vs. Long Term Tinnitus
Many individuals experience temporary tinnitus, which is often caused by spending time around loud noises such as machinery or music. If the ringing or other sounds fade fairly quickly, it is unlikely the person will require medical attention. In approximately one out of a hundred cases, the persistence and intensity of tinnitus symptoms seriously diminish life quality.
People Most at Risk
This condition does not discriminate according to age or gender, but although it can affect anyone, people over 65 are most likely to experience long-term tinnitus. Later in life, various systems throughout the body begin to decline, and hearing is no exception. In a third of people investigated for tinnitus, doctors do not detect visible damage.
Tinnitus Worsens with Silence
Tinnitus often becomes more noticeable in quiet environments. While external sound levels do not affect the level of these noises in the ears, background noise can provide a distraction from tinnitus. One method of treatment is artificial sound from a noise machine. Some people find leaving the television or radio on can also ease symptoms.
Causes: Ear Blockage
In addition to exposure to loud noises, an accumulation of ear wax is one of the more common causes of tinnitus, and one that is easy for a medical practitioner to spot. Earwax blockages are resolved with ear drops or high-pressure water flows that irrigate the ear. It’s important to let a professional irrigate the ears to avoid rupturing the eardrum.
About one in ten cases of tinnitus are due to head or neck injuries. For example, a whiplash injury to the neck can lead to tinnitus. When an injury is the cause of the condition, individuals usually seek help quickly because the symptoms are more pronounced and debilitating.
Causes: Drug Side Effects
Occasionally, prescription medicine causes tinnitus as a side effect. In most cases, this type of tinnitus is short-lived and resolves as soon as the individual stops using the problematic medication. Antibiotics, cancer medication, some antidepressants, and diuretics can sometimes lead to tinnitus, and it is always best to speak to a doctor rather than ceasing the medication. Sometimes, the physician can prescribe an alternative drug that will not cause tinnitus.
Causes: Mental Health
Although physical factors can prompt tinnitus, when no injury or obvious event is to blame, mental health could be the culprit. Though such conclusions must often be reached by eliminating all other possible causes, doctors have linked tinnitus to anxiety, stress, and depression.
Causes: Rare Diseases
In rare cases, a little-known disease could be the cause of tinnitus. One such disorder is Paget’s disease, which adversely affects bone recycling and leads to fragile bones. Some people with Meniere’s disease also develop tinnitus. This chronic inner ear disease leads to vertigo, hearing loss, and aural fullness (a feeling of pressure in the ear).
Can Tinnitus Be Inherited?
In a minority of tinnitus cases, a genetic issue could be responsible. Some individuals may develop tinnitus due to otosclerosis, a condition that interrupts bone development in the middle ear and causes loss of hearing, as well. Almost half of those with otosclerosis has a gene that places them at higher risk for tinnitus