Tinnitus refers to the ringing sound or noises which are prevalent in one or both ears. The sounds do not originate from any external sources and thus, are not heard by anyone else. The sounds can be so soft for a person to notice or loud enough to block the sounds from external sources. Tinnitus is common in around 15-20% of people with severe cases affecting the quality of life.
Tinnitus is not a disease but an underlying symptom of medical conditions related to the human ear. In case you are experiencing a ringing sensation in the ear, get in touch with a healthcare professional for early diagnosis and effective treatment.
What Are the Types Of Tinnitus?
The doctors have classified types of tinnitus into the following categories -
What Are the Symptoms Of Tinnitus?
Tinnitus usually begins as a result of hearing loss or a history of head injury which can be described as a ringing sensation in the ears. Even though there is no external sound present, the patients may also hear noises which can be similar to buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or humming.
Depending on the type and severity of the condition, the sound can either persist in one or both ears. Additionally, tinnitus can also occur as a rhythmic pulsating sound in rare cases. However, it is only after a comprehensive diagnosis, the doctor can determine whether the symptoms are a result of a hearing condition or not.
What Are The Causes Of Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is usually an underlying symptom which can indicate the presence of an ear infection, head injury or impending hearing issues. Tinnitus usually occurs when the auditory system is not functioning properly. The most common cause of tinnitus includes ear infections, hearing loss, chronic health issues, a history of head or neck injuries, certain medications, etc. Additionally, certain medical conditions can also impact the quality of hearing which may result in tinnitus. Here are some medical conditions which can cause tinnitus -
Muscle spasms in the inner ear
Acoustic neuroma or other head and neck tumours
Eustachian tube dysfunction
Ear bone changes
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
Apart from that, certain risk factors such as age, overuse of alcohol and tobacco products, loud exposure to noise, etc. can also put stress on the tympanic membrane in the ear increasing the risk of an ear disorder.
When Should I Consult The Doctor For My Tinnitus?
While some people do not experience any difference in hearing due to tinnitus, prolonging the treatment can have adverse side effects. Consult an ENT specialist if you are bothered by the constant ringing sound which develops due to upper respiratory infections. In addition, if your tinnitus symptoms do not improve with time and new symptoms begin to appear (like dizziness, hearing loss, and anxiety), then you must seek medical assistance.
How Is Tinnitus Diagnosed?
Tinnitus diagnosis involves a combination of physical examination and checking medical history reports. Since there are other medical conditions which can cause hearing loss, the doctor may recommend diagnostic tests to confirm the tinnitus. Initially, the doctor may ask you about your medical history and examines your ears, neck and head. You may be asked to move your eyes, neck, arm, etc. to see if the tinnitus changes or worsens. Furthermore, the following diagnostic tests can help identify the possible causes of tinnitus -
Hearing exam to determine the extent of hearing loss (if any).
Imaging tests such as x-ray, CT scans, MRI scans, etc. to get a 3D image of the ear and surrounding organs.
Tympanometry to check the health of the eardrums using a medical device called a tympanometer.
What Are The Different Treatment Methods For Tinnitus?
Tinnitus treatment aims to eliminate the primary cause of ringing sensation and improve/restore overall ear functioning. While mild cases of tinnitus can be treated by counselling, medications, noise suppressants, etc. people with severe hearing loss may require surgical interventions. Mild to moderate symptoms can be treated using the following options -
Using hearing aids
Changing your medicines
Getting treated for any blood vessel conditions
The doctor may also recommend medications to reduce the severity of symptoms and decrease the risk of complications. The doctor may prescribe medications which can help manage tinnitus symptoms. The medications can also help control anxiety and depression due to the constant ringing sensations.
On the other hand, there are symptoms which are beyond treatment. Therefore, the doctor recommends electronic devices to reduce the symptoms and suppress the constant noise. These devices produce white noise (similar sounds produced by fans, dehumidifiers, ACs, etc.) which can help the patients sleep and make tinnitus less noticeable. Noise suppression devices include -
White Noise Machines
Some doctors may recommend counselling to help patients adjust to tinnitus. These therapies help patients learn how to pay less attention to tinnitus and increase their quality of life. Counselling options for tinnitus treatment include -
Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT)
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
If tinnitus is a result of a ruptured tympanic membrane, the doctor may recommend tympanoplasty which is a surgical procedure to repair the hole in the eardrum. Surgical procedures offer long-term health benefits and faster recovery. Discuss your condition with the doctor to know the best options for tinnitus treatment.
How Can I Prevent Tinnitus?
Most cases of tinnitus cannot be prevented case of a congenital defect or permanent hearing disorder. The prevention aims to protect your ears from loud noises and sounds. Here are some preventive tips which can help you improve symptoms and manage tinnitus -
Use hearing protection to avoid exposure to loud sounds
Avoid listening to music at a loud volume
Use white noise to mask the noise from tinnitus
Limit alcohol, caffeine and nicotine
Frequently Asked Questions
Whom should I consult for my Tinnitus treatment?
Consult ENT specialists or otolaryngologists who specialise in diagnosing and treating disorders related to the ear, nose, and throat. Furthermore, it is important to consider the following factors before choosing the best ENT doctor for your tinnitus treatment -
Years of experience
Availability of the doctor on the day of surgery
Experience in handling the latest technology
Are ear drops for Tinnitus effective?
If the tinnitus is caused by any underlying medical condition, ear drops can help clear earwax and prevent the ear from further infections. However, the effectiveness of eardrops for tinnitus varies from one patient to another.
What are the complications of Tinnitus?
Tinnitus affects people differently and can significantly degrade the quality of life. Depending on the individual’s existing medical condition, possible complications of untreated tinnitus include -