Ringing in the ear, or tinnitus is the perception of hearing a ringing, buzzing, whistling, chirping, and other sounds in your ear. The noise varies in a frequency of occurrence and also the loudness experienced. The presence of low background noise can make this worse, which is often noticeable at night when you try to sleep. Rarely, the sound produced by your heart syncs with the ringing in your ear; this is known as the pulsatile tinnitus.
This form of the hearing problem is very common, affecting about one in five Americans. While it seems like a mere annoyance to some people, others have experienced difficulty in sleeping and loss of concentration. If neglected and left untreated, this condition might interfere with one’s work and personal relationship, leading to psychological distress.
Often, tinnitus is associated with hearing loss, but it is not the cause of hearing loss, neither does a hearing loss cause tinnitus.
Some causes of tinnitus are infections or blockages in the ear, and if these underlying causes are treated, tinnitus disappears. Sometimes tinnitus continues even after a treatment. In rare cases like this, other therapies (both conventional and alternative) are used, to bring a significant relief or cover up the unwanted sound.
Different types of tinnitus
Pulsatile or clicking tinnitus: This type of tinnitus produces a buzzing or ringing sensation, the sound produced is a clicking or rushing one that syncs with your heartbeat.
Objective tinnitus: A rare form of tinnitus, doctors can sometimes hear the sound when they listen carefully during the process of diagnosis.
Subjective tinnitus: The most common type of tinnitus, a person suffering from this type of tinnitus is able to hear the ringing, while no one else can.
What are the causes of the ringing in your ear?
Exposure to loud sounds over a long period of time is the main cause of tinnitus. A study has shown that more than 90% of people that have a noise-induced hearing loss suffer from tinnitus. There is a permanent damage to the sound-sensitive part of the cochlea due to prolonged exposure to noise. People doing jobs such as carpentry, pilot, musician, landscaper are at risk of having tinnitus as well as those that work with guns, chainsaw, loud devices and listening repeatedly to loud music. Exposing yourself to loud noise once can also cause tinnitus.
Other conditions and illnesses that can lead to tinnitus are:
- Ear infections caused by the buildup of wax. This causes blockage to the ear. In rare cases, a benign tumor affects the nerve that allows us to hear.
- Some drugs such as several types of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, sedatives, and aspirins cause tinnitus. In addition to this, drugs with quinine medications have potential side effects that can lead to tinnitus. More than 200 prescription and nonprescription drugs have been cited to have side effects leading to tinnitus.
- Deterioration of the cochlea and other sensitive parts of the ear due to old age.
- Diseases that affect the inner part of the ear such as the Meniere disease
- Otosclerosis: A disease that stifles the small bones in the middle of the ear.
- Having injury in one’s head and neck.
- Medical conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes and underactive thyroid glands.
- Having neck or jaw problems, such as the TMJ syndrome.
What you need to do to cure the ringing in your ear
The first stage in the process of treating your tinnitus is to get diagnosed or evaluated by a doctor or healthcare professional. This is to ensure that what you are hearing is not something else, not entirely related to tinnitus. It is important to visit your doctor if you suddenly start hearing a ringing sound in your ear, or only a single side in your ear is affected by a buzzing or chirping sound. Ascertaining if the cause of the ringing in the ear is medical or caused by something else is key in the treatment of tinnitus.
A sudden loss in hearing is often accompanied by tinnitus. The treatment of your sudden hearing loss will also cure the ringing in the ear in most cases.
Pulsatile tinnitus that is characterized by a buzzing and ringing sound and in most cases a sound that syncs with the heart can be caused by an aneurysm because of an early onset of high blood pressure. This is the bulging near the ear that is caused by walls of a blood vessel.
Situations where ringing in the ear is associated with personality change, difficulty in walking or talking should be evaluated for the possibility of stroke in the said patient.