Twenty percent of the American population suffers from tinnitus, a condition that involves noise in the ears or head. People describe the phantom sounds are described in various ways, and no two people hear them in the same way. “Ringing in the ears” is a common description for tinnitus, but some people hear whistling, buzzing, roaring, hissing and other sounds.
Tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying condition. It is frequently associated with hearing loss, and it may be a sign of injury to the hearing system. Some people experience temporary tinnitus after concerts, loud parties and other noise exposure. Persistent tinnitus warrants a medical examination, especially if it involves hearing loss or balance problems.
Tinnitus Types and Causes
The presence of tinnitus usually indicates another health problem such as an allergy, infection or benign tumor. Tinnitus noise may be high- or low-pitched, loud or soft, distracting or barely noticeable. Sometimes, tinnitus sufferers hear more than one sound.
For some people, tinnitus noise is a constant distraction. Others hear intermittent sounds. There are three main types of tinnitus: subjective, objective and pulsatile. These types have different causes.
Subjective tinnitus involves noise that the patient hears. The sounds usually stem from inner ear, nerve or brain injury or irritation due to inflammation, infection, allergy, age, genetics, hormones, medications or other factors. Stress and fatigue can also cause subjective tinnitus.
Objective tinnitus is an unusual condition. It refers to sounds that are audible to more than one person. A doctor may hear the noise through a special earpiece or stethoscope. Muscle spasms or blood vessel abnormalities cause of objective tinnitus.
People who have pulsatile or vascular tinnitus hear the sound of their heartbeat in their ears. Strenuous exercise, middle ear infections and stressful situations may increase blood flow and make it more audible. When pulsatile tinnitus is associated with hearing loss, hoarse throat and swallowing problems, it may indicate an aneurysm or vascular tumor.
Tinnitus Treatment and Prevention
Doctors have many different approaches to treat tinnitus, depending on the cause. Treatments usually involve changing medications, managing blood sugar or taking antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs. If a tumor is responsible for tinnitus noise, radiation or surgery may be necessary. Sometimes, doctors ask patients to simply watch and wait.
Stress reduction, massage therapy, nutritional supplements, sleeping aids and white noise are additional treatment options. While there is no cure for tinnitus, simple lifestyle changes may minimize the symptoms. Avoiding loud noise, stress, caffeine and nicotine are good self-help techniques for reducing tinnitus.
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