Tinnitus is often described as ringing in the ears. It may also be described as:
- the sound of escaping air, running water, or the inside of a seashell
- a hissing, roaring, whistling, chirping, clicking, sizzling, musical, buzzing, or humming noise.
How does it occur?
Problems that can cause tinnitus or make it worse are:
- wax buildup or foreign objects in the ear canal
- Inner ear problems e.g – hearing loss due to aging, noise-induced hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, Meniere’s disease (excessive fluid in the inner ear)
- Otosclerosis, which is growth of the bone surrounding the middle and inner ear
- brain tumour or acoustic neuroma (tumour of the hearing nerve)
- anxiety, depression, or stress
- Rarely – Nose cancer
But sometimes the exact cause of tinnitus is not known.
How is it diagnosed?
Your ENT specialist will ask about your symptoms and examine you. Depending on other symptoms you may have, you may have one or more of the following tests:
- hearing test
- CT or MRI scan of your head to exclude brain tumour or an acoustic neuroma (tumour of the hearing nerve).
How is it treated?
Tinnitus usually lessens or goes away with time. If it persists, treatments your ENT specialist may recommend are:
- Hearing aids if you have hearing loss.
- Medications to improve circulation to the inner ear (e.g. Ginkgo, betahistine, etc)
- Biofeedback, which is a relaxation technique that teaches you to control certain body functions such as pulse, muscle tension, and brain wave activity.
- Sound therapy. This involves masking the tinnitus with competing sounds, such as low-level music, clocks, or other noises. This may make it easier to ignore the tinnitus and help you concentrate and sleep better.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT), which combines low-level, steady background sounds with counseling. This combination helps you grow unaware of the sounds of tinnitus.
How long will the effects last?
There is no known cure for some causes of tinnitus. The sounds in your ears may go away after a time or they may continue constantly or occasionally throughout your life but usually at a softer volume. Treatment may give some relief, but you may need to change your expectations of a cure. You may need to learn to live with the tinnitus or drown it out with competing sound.
How can I take care of myself?
- Stress and fatigue can affect tinnitus. Take time to relax.
- Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and certain foods can make tinnitus worse. Talk with your ENT specialist about this.
- If you have hearing loss, avoid further damage by protecting yourself with earplugs or earmuffs or by avoiding noisy events.
- Some medicines can cause tinnitus or make it worse. Aspirin is the most common example of such medicines. Be sure that you tell all doctors who treat you about all medicines you are taking, including nonprescription products, vitamins, and natural remedies.
How can I help prevent tinnitus?
A common cause of tinnitus can be avoided by staying away from loud noises. Use ear protectors when you are in a noisy environment.