Tinnitus - Have you experienced it yet?
Tinnitus - Have you experienced it yet?
Andrea ByrdCan you ever recall hearing a strange annoying noise in your ears that remained constant for days or seemed recurrent? If you answered yes to this question then you may be one of the 50,000,000 individuals in the U.S. who suffer from tinnitus. Almost everyone at one time or another has experienced brief periods of mild ringing or other sounds in the ear and it is estimated that one out of every five people experience some degree of tinnitus (1). The presence of tinnitus is a very common and annoying occurrence that affects about 17% of the general population and 33% of the elderly (2). With such statistics, could it be that we are all most likely destined to become a victim of tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the internal perception of sound when there actually is no external sound present. It is a symptom that can occur in either or both ears or can seem as if it is coming from somewhere in the head. Tinnitus can sound like a bell, whistle, roar, screech, hum, crickets, tone, something else, or any combination of the above. It can be continuous, pulsatile, or can fluctuate in character or loudness (3).
Tinnitus is classified into two forms: objective and subjective. Objective tinnitus, the rarer form, consists of a sound that may be audible to people other than the sufferer. The noises are usually caused by vascular diseases or abnomalies, repetitive muscle contractions, or inner ear structural defects. The sounds are heard by the sufferer and are generally external to the auditory system. Benign causes, such as noise from the jaw joint, openings of the Eustachian tubes, or repetitive muscle contractions may be the cause of objective tinnitus. It can be an early sign of increased intracranial pressure and is often overshadowed by other neurologic abnormalities. Subjective tinnitus may occur anywhere in the auditory system and is much less understood, with the causes being many and open to debate. The sounds heard by the sufferer may range form metallic ringing, buzzing, blowing, or roaring to a clanging, popping, or nonrhythmic beating (4).
To understand what causes tinnitus, it is important to know a little bit about the ear itself. The main mechanism of hearing is the cochlea, located in the inner ear. The cochlea is lined with tiny hair cells which, when stimulated by sound waves, send electrical signal to the brain that are then translated into sound. In the hearing impaired, these hair cells are damaged or destroyed, causing partial or total hearing loss. Trauma to the cochlea from loud noises or accidents can also cause hair cell damage. The most frequent cause of tinnitus is related to hair cell damage (5).
For many sufferers, the exact cause of their symptoms remains a mystery to health care professionals. Only when a specific factor is linked to the appearance or disappearance of the tinnitus can a cause be stated with certainty. Blows to the head, large doses of certain drugs, anemia, hypertension, noise exposure, stress, impacted ear wax and certain types of tumors are examples of conditions that might cause tinnitus (6).
To give a closer investigation of tinnitus, some possible causes include the following:
Noise exposure--Repeated exposure to such loud noises as guns, artillery, aircraft, lawn mowers, movie theaters, amplified music, heavy construction, etc., can cause permanent hearing damage. Some people report auditory fatigue from driving automobiles long distances with the windows down. Anyone regularly exposed to these conditions should considerwearing ear plugs or other hearing protection. The noise from MRI scanners is typically very loud. Headphones are usually provided, however if they are not, ear plugs should be used.
Ototoxic drugs--Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs may cause tinnitus and/or hearing loss that may be permanent or may disappear when the dosage is reduced or eliminated.
Food--Specific foods may trigger tinnitus. Problem foods include red wine, grain-based spirits, cheese, and chocolate. Tinnitus may also be caused by foods rich in salicylates (the same ingredient as in aspirin, which also causes tinnitus when taken in large amounts).
Marijuana usage--may worsen pre-existing cases of tinnitus.
Lyme disease--a parasitic, tick-borne disease, which in the United States is most commonly seen in eastern states. In some cases, tinnitus has been a side-effect of Lyme.
Growths/tumors--Acoustic neuromas, glomous tumors, otosclerosis may all cause tinnitus. Surgery may be recommended.
Wax or dirt build-up in the ear canal--If you're experiencing tinnitus, this is one of the first things you should check for. NEVER try digging or suctioning the ear canal yourself or allow a physician to do it as SERIOUS damage may result. Numerous over-the-counter chemical washes are available from your drugstore which may clean the ear canal.
Severe ear infections-- Tinnitus can occur after an inner ear infection.
High blood cholesterol--clogs arteries that supply oxygen to the nerves of the inner ear. Reducing your cholesterol level may reduce your tinnitus.
Vascular abnormalities--Arteries may press too closely against the inner ear structures or nerves. This is sometimes correctable by delicate surgery.
Stress--Stress is not a direct cause of tinnitus, but it may generally make an already existing case worse.
Diet and other lifestyle choices--Like stress, a poor diet can worsen an existing case of tinnitus. Alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, quinine/tonic water, high fat, and high sodium can all make tinnitus worse in some people.
Intracranial hypertension--Can cause pulsatile tinnitus.
Traumatic head injuries--Some automobile crash victims have reported a sudden onset of tinnitus.
Dental procedures--Strain on the temporomandibular joint during any dental work may cause tinnitus.
Cochlear implant or other skull surgeries--Sometimes surgery within the skull will accidentally damage the hearing system. Tinnitus, or even profound deafness caused be severe inner ear infections, may result(4).
There is a great possibility that we all will experience tinnitus, if we have not already. The number one cause of tinnitus is exposure to excessively loud noise. Rock concerts, movie theaters, nightclubs, construction sites, guns, power tools, stereo headphones, and musical instruments are just some of the things that can be hazardous to the ears. Damage can result from either a single exposure or cumulative trauma.(4). Noise, in general, can be viewed as an everyday function that helps us to live normally, however it can prevent some people from leading a normal life. About one million sufferers are so seriously debilitated that they cannot function on a day-to-day basis. The upsetting notion of tinnitus is that it can strike people of all ages and, for most, it does not go away. Tinnitus is just a nuisance for some, but for others it is a stressful, life-altering condition (7).
WWW Sources1) Tinnitus FAQ- Discovering and Understanding
10/15/2005, from a Reader on the Web
I have bi-lateral tinnitus. I have heard that people who have their audio nerve severed to deal with this problem are deaf but still hear the ringing. This is even more than seing without sight or hearing without audio apperatus. Is the sound like phantom limb sydrome where a severed appendage still gives the amputee "pain". But then in those who have not hads the procedure where does it come from. Many people have experienced temprary tinnitus after hearing a loud explosion, but it goes away. Why? Ed Kopanski kopanski at myway.com