Do your ears constantly ring or hum? Do you experience phantom sounds that aren’t actually there? If the answer is yes, then you know exactly how awkward and annoying the sensation can be.
You likely ignore the buzzing sound coming from deep within your ear canal the first time it happens and go about your day as usual. The problem starts when an inner noise you cannot ignore persists despite your best efforts. Here is when you start an internal dialogue, trying to convince yourself that nothing should concern you. However, as the days pass and the loud noises and buzzing sounds don’t stop, you may begin to suspect that the ringing will never stop. Hearing noises in your ears that don’t correlate to the external sounds around you can be related to a condition called tinnitus. Continue reading to learn more about this common sign of hearing loss and what you can do if you’re experiencing the effects of tinnitus
What Is Tinnitus, and How Is It Identified?
Tinnitus is a brain and ear condition caused most often by hearing loss, acoustic trauma, and malfunctions in the brain or eardrum. In most cases, tinnitus is associated with phantom noises, but unlike other hearing disorders, it affects everyone differently. Some people hear whistling or humming sounds, while others experience pitch, volume, and perception changes randomly. The sounds may come from just one ear or different areas of the head.
There are multiple areas where tinnitus can develop, including the inner ear, middle ear, and brain. It is unknown specifically what triggers tinnitus, but doctors believe inflammation, tumors, and damage to the eardrums or auditory nerves are likely culprits. Tinnitus is also commonly associated with hearing loss from age, and many other factors can also contribute to its manifestation, such as a severe stress reaction, exposure to excessive noise, and substance abuse. Additionally, certain hearing loss disorders such as Meniere’s disease, medications used to treat malaria, depression, and rheumatism have been directly linked to tinnitus side effects.
No matter whether you are currently dealing with tinnitus or suffer from it intermittently, you are not alone. Tinnitus is one of the most common health conditions in the United States, affecting millions of people. Nearly 15 percent of Americans—more than 50 million Americans—suffer from some form of tinnitus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. A staggering 20 million people suffer from chronic tinnitus, while 2 million suffer from extreme and debilitating cases.
In general, there are two types of tinnitus:
- Subjective Tinnitus: Hearing sounds that are only audible to the specific patient. Subjective tinnitus is usually caused by auditory and neurological reactions to hearing loss, but can also be triggered by other factors. Nearly all tinnitus reports are of the subjective variety.
- Sensory Tinnitus: Forms of this kind are typically a side effect of an impaired auditory system. In fact, subjective tinnitus is a form of sensory tinnitus.
- Objective Tinnitus: Rare form of tinnitus caused by involuntary muscle contractions or vascular abnormalities. When the underlying cause is treated, the tinnitus usually disappears completely. This is the only form of tinnitus that can be heard by an outside observer, and the only type with the potential to be permanently fixed.
There are also a few subtypes of Tinnitus:
- Neurological Tinnitus: Usually caused by a condition that affects the auditory system, such as Meniere’s disease.
- Somatic Tinnitus: Typically related to physical movement and touch. It is also known as conductive tinnitus, meaning it is tinnitus caused by external factors rather than sensory or neurological ones. It can also result from dental issues such as impacted wisdom teeth and popping of the jaw.
- Musical Tinnitus: This type is less common. It’s also known as auditory imagery or musical hallucinations. Tones or layers of tones combine to create a melody or composition. Most people who suffer from tinnitus and musical tinnitus have had hearing loss for some time. However, people with normal hearing or increased sensitivity to sound can also experience musical hallucinations.
- Pulsatile Tinnitus: Rhythmic tinnitus aligned with the beat of the heart. It usually indicates a change in blood flow to vessels near the ear or an increased awareness of blood flow to the ear.
- Low-Frequency Tinnitus: This is perhaps the most confusing type of tinnitus because sufferers aren’t sure if the sound is external or internal. Tones are often described as humming, murmuring, rumbling, or deep droning, which corresponds to the two lowest octaves on a piano. This type of sound affects people the most.
Keep an ear out for the following symptoms:
- You hear noises that no one else does;
- No source is associated with the noise;
- Sounds such as clicking, hissing, whistling, or humming that occur constantly or periodically
- Grinding or crunching noises
- Changes in tone, pitch, and volume
- Changes in sound perception
Tinnitus may appear briefly, then disappear immediately. Sometimes it lasts a lifetime, sometimes it lasts for a few weeks. Most medical professionals distinguish between three types:
- Acute tinnitus: Lasts less than three months, and often ends spontaneously. Some medication may help in this case.
- Subacute tinnitus: Recurs every three to twelve months. Medication and/or relaxation exercises may help improve the condition.
- Chronic tinnitus: Symptoms last for more than a year and rarely subside without therapy or medication.
What Causes Tinnitus?
In most cases, the cause of tinnitus is unknown. In the absence of damage to the auditory system, your provider will investigate these possible causes:
- Jaw joint dysfunction (TMJ)
- Chronic neck muscle strain
- Excessive noise exposure
- Certain medications
- Wax buildup
- Cardiovascular disease
- Ear infections
- Ruptured eardrum
- Meniere’s disease
Intrusive noises in the ear that occur suddenly usually disappear on their own. It is usually sufficient to give yourself, and your hearing, a rest. But what do you do if the whistling or whooshing noises just won’t go away?
If the ringing in your ear lasts longer than 24 hours, you should consult a medical professional. The sooner you treat acute tinnitus, the better your chances of recovery and preventing chronic tinnitus.
Tinnitus symptoms can be extremely difficult to diagnose and treat without knowing the cause. Once you understand what you are dealing with, it becomes much easier to alleviate the condition. Treatment options vary depending on the reason for the condition. Many people find relief through cognitive behavioral therapy, noise-cancellation devices, or hearing aids. You can use these methods to manage your symptoms and maintain your quality of life. If your problem stems from otosclerosis, surgery may be the best way to restore your hearing.
If you’re experiencing symptoms associated with tinnitus contact us at Wichita Falls Hearing in Wichita Falls, Texas. We have a skilled and caring team who will help you find the best treatment available to suppress or eliminate the noises. We can also help treat any hearing loss issues you may have.
Reach out today to get the relief you need!