Tinnitus is a condition where the person has the perception of a constant ringing sensation within the ears without the presence of any actual external factors. The continuous discomfort in the ears can be in any form like buzzing, hissing, clicking etc. The feeling can either be temporary or chronic and continuous. Also Read: Otosclerosis – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
The ringing or buzzing noise can sometimes be just a feeling in the head or in either of your ears giving a sense of hallucinating the noise and hence sometimes denoted as ‘phantom sounds’. Though this isn’t a true psychotic disease, continuous buzzing can lead to discomfort causing psychological and emotional stress and anxiety, disrupting daily life and social surroundings. Although it isn’t a disease but can be quite a bothersome underlying symptom or an adverse effect due to ear injury, age-related hearing loss, or a circulatory system disorder.
The phantom sounds heard by a suffering person varies from a low squeak to a high squeal or roar. It can happen in one or both ears and can sometimes be so loud that it may interfere with the ability to concentrate or hear normal sounds.
The most common cause of this bothersome symptom is due to damage caused in the middle or inner ear. In normal conditions, the sound waves are passed from the middle to the inner ear and then via the ear ossicles, it reaches the eardrum. The inner ear perceives the sound and sends an electrical impulse to the brain, which then accepts the impulses and perceives them as sound. Damage to any part of the ear, be it the ear ossicles, or a tumour or swelling in the eardrum or the auditory nerve can interfere in the normal transmission of sound waves leading to a ringing or buzzing sensation. Also Read: Ruptured Ear Drum: How To Restore Lost Hearing?
Even exposure to loud noise on a daily basis, as in the case of people working in metal factories with chainsaws, hammer jacks, can cause tinnitus. People who or are continuously listening to loud music through earphones are also at risk of experiencing this painful syndrome unless the habit is changed.
In certain cases, a very large dosage of antibiotics, anti-malarial drugs, diuretics, or anticancer medications can also cause hearing damage as an alter indication.
Other medical conditions that can cause tinnitus includes:
- Meniere’s disease
- Muscle spasms in the middle ear
- Age-related hearing disability
- High blood pressure
- Extreme deposition of earwax
- Injury to the head or neck
- Temporomandibular joint disorders
The common signs and symptoms depend upon the type of phantom sounds heard by a person suffering from tinnitus include:
Diagnosis And Treatment
If you have the feeling of any kind of ringing sensation or discomfort in either or your ears, it is best to consult an ENT doctor or an Otolaryngologist. The doctor usually does a thorough physical check-up and acknowledges the patient’s past medical history to understand the cause of tinnitus. The doctor usually does an Audiological or hearing test followed by Imaging tests like CT-scan or MRI-scans.
After analysing the cause of this phantom noise syndrome, the doctor may prescribe for some anti-depressants to reduce the underlying side effects that arise due to tinnitus like anxiety, confusion, dry mouth, constipation, blurred vision, and heart problems.
If the tinnitus is due to the build-up of ear wax, the doctor may clear away the ear wax to reduce the ringing sensation and in case it is due to some internal ear damage, he may perform surgery to prescribe some medications to rectify the causative factor.
In certain chronic conditions, to suppress the ringing noise, the doctor may also suggest the patient wear masking devices, tinnitus refraining devices over the ears to provide some relief from the annoying sound.