Tinnitus is commonly described as a ringing in the ears, but it also can sound like roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing. It may be soft or loud, high pitched or low pitched. You might hear it in either one or both ears. Roughly 10 percent of the adult population of the United States has experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year. Approximately 50 million Americans experience chronic tinnitus and of these, 10 million have bothersome tinnitus. Tinnitus is most noticeable in quiet environments and in the absence of distracting stimuli and, thus, frequently seems worse at bedtime. It may be intermittent or continuous. Continuous tinnitus is at best annoying and is often quite distressing and can be annoying and bothersome. Bothersome tinnitus is associated with poorer working memory, slower processing speeds and reaction times, and deficiencies in selective attention.
Tinnitus can also be temporary or permanent. Temporary tinnitus is normal and usually subsides on its own in seconds to minutes, after a brief period of tinnitus that sounds like ringing, chirping, beeping, buzzing or whooshing. Tinnitus is usually classified as permanent if it lasts for more than 2 weeks.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus is not a disease in itself. Rather, it is a symptom. Tinnitus itself usually does not lead to other issues, it is mostly annoying, however, it can affect an individual’s concentration in some cases. Conditions which can cause tinnitus include:
- Exposure to loud noise: This is the commonest cause of tinnitus and people who work in construction companies with loud machinery, pilots, DJs and other similar profession where they are exposed to loud noise often complain of tinnitus.
- Age-related hearing loss: The natural ageing process that leads to destruction of the hearing apparatus, the cochlea, and a condition called otoscelrosis where the small bones that help in hearing are stiffened, can cause hearing loss and associated tinnitus.
- Earwax: Accumulation of wax (cerumen) in the ear can also cause tinnitus
- A disease called Meniere’s disease causes symptoms like vertigo (spinning environment), hearing loss, and tinnitus.
- Ear and sinus infections
- Diseases of the heart or blood vessels like as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, circulatory problems, anemia, allergies, autoimmune disease, and diabetes are associated with tinnitus.
- Certain medications called ototoxic drugs like aspirin, the macrolide antibiotics, loop diuretics like furosemide, beta blockers, Isitretinoin, ACE inhibitors, the quinines, and antidepressants, among many other medications cause tinnitus as a side effect.
- Extreme stress and depression can also cause tinnitus
- Hormonal changes in women
- Head or neck injuries
- Tumor of the brain or cranial nerves
- Thyroid abnormalities
- Abnormal bone growth in the ear
- Neck or jaw issues like the Temporomandibular syndrome
What to do if you have tinnitus.
Tinnitus usually goes away on its own without treatment. However, according to the NHS, if you have tinnitus regularly or constantly; if your tinnitus is getting worse or bothering you like making you anxious, depressed, or affecting your sleep; and if it beats in time with your pulse, you should visit your doctor for evaluation.
The doctor will examine you to know if there is any underlying cause of tinnitus. This may involve specialized hearing tests and occasional visit to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist. The underlying cause if diagnosed is treated.
Occasionally, there is no treatment for tinnitus and you may have to adjust your lifestyle and behavior like listening to soft music, relaxing, and avoiding loud environments to reduce the effects of tinnitus. Interventions like external sound therapy, Tinnitus retraining therapy, and Cognitive behavioral therapy may also become necessary if the tinnitus is really bothering you.
What are the signs that tinnitus is going away
Temporary tinnitus usually goes away, while permanent tinnitus usually reduces markedly with time and the individual can cope better with it. When your tinnitus is going away, you may notice the following signs:
The intensity becomes softer, and not as loud
You have to think about it to notice it
It occurs for shorter periods of time
It does not bother you or affect your concentration and
You can sleep and relax in quiet places without being bothered by it
If you have tinnitus and you notice the above signs, congratulations, you are on the road to recovery and your tinnitus is well on its way to going away.