Tinnitus - ringing in the ears

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the term for the perception of sound when no external sound is present. It is a physical condition experienced as noises in the ears or head, usually perceived as a ringing sound (and the condition is often referred to as ‘ringing in the ears’), although some people hear hissing, roaring, whistling, chirping, or clicking. Tinnitus can be intermittent or constant, with single or multiple tones. Its perceived volume can range from very soft to extremely loud.

Tinnitus is not a disease in itself. It is usually a symptom of a fault in a person’s auditory (hearing) system, and is usually associated with a hearing loss, and in particular sensorineural hearing loss. Sometimes tinnitus is present with normal hearing and for no discernible reason. Tinnitus can be extremely debilitating, affecting a person’s ability to work or cope with normal life activities.

People with tinnitus may suffer from:

- Extreme distress
- Tension, irritability or frustration
- Depression
- Frequent mood swings or anxiety attacks
- Poor concentration
- Sleep problems

If you suspect you suffer from tinnitus, treat it as warning signal that you might be developing a hearing loss and make an appointment to see an audiologist for a hearing test.

What causes Tinnitus?

Worldwide research continues but the actual cause or causes of tinnitus are not yet fully understood. We do know that tinnitus is real, not imagined, and that it is a symptom of a malfunction somewhere in the hearing system, including both the ear and brain. Spontaneous activity in the inner ear, or cochlear, is involved for many people, most likely a result of damage in this area associated with sensorineural hearing loss.

The more common causes of tinnitus include:

- Noise-induced hearing loss
- Age-related hearing loss
- Ear diseases and disorders
- Extreme stress or trauma
- Degeneration of the hair cells in the cochlear
- Ear problems, such as otosclerosis (fixation of the tiny stirrup bone in the middle ear)
- Meniere’s disease (swelling of a duct in the ear)
- Some medications.

Other causes of tinnitus may include:

- Head trauma
- Large doses of certain drugs such as aspirin (always check with your doctor whether the medication they are prescribing has a side effect of causing or exacerbating tinnitus)
- Compacted ear wax
- Middle ear infections
- Jaw misalignment (specifically dysfunction of the joint connecting the jaw to the bone under the ear)
- Perilymp fistula (a hole in the inner ear, allowing fluid to escape)
- Certain types of tumours
- Cardiovascular disease
- Thyroid disorders

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