Chances are that at some point of time, you might have experienced a ringing sensation in your ear, especially after exposure to long hours of loud music. This condition is called Tinnitus and affects about 1 in 5 people.
Tinnitus is not just a disorder but, it is considered as a symptom of various other underlying conditions such as age-related hearing loss or ear injury. Symptoms of tinnitus include perceptions of phantom noises such as ringing, buzzing, clicking, hissing or in extreme cases, roaring. It may vary in pitch and volume that it could get in the way of your work as it affects concentration.
Types of Tinnitus
There are two types of tinnitus – subjective and objective tinnitus.
- Subjective Tinnitus
This type of tinnitus can only be heard by the patient, and is the most common type of tinnitus. This type is usually due to disorders of the auditory nerves or that part of the brain that receives auditory signals.
- Objective Tinnitus
This type of tinnitus is caused by problems with blood vessels in the inner ear, or middle ear bone anomalies or muscle contractions in the inner ear, and often can be heard out loud even to the physician. It may sometimes appear as a whistling sound in the ear.
Causes of Tinnitus
The most common cause of tinnitus is the internal damage of the ear canal. Tiny, delicate hairs in your inner ear move in relation to the pressure of sound waves. This triggers ear cells to release an electrical signal through a nerve from your ear (auditory nerve) to your brain. Your brain interprets these signals as sound. If the hairs inside your inner ear are bent or broken, they can "leak" random electrical impulses to your brain, causing tinnitus.
Other causes of tinnitus include:
- Age related hearing loss
Presbycusis, also known as age-related hearing loss, is one of the leading reasons behind tinnitus and starts around the age of 60.
- Exposure to loud noise
Exposure to loud noise such as those from heavy equipments, portable music devices etc., for long durations can cause noise-related hearing loss in the long run. Tinnitus caused by short term exposure to noise such as musical concerts, goes away after a while, but it is the long term exposure that causes significant damage to your ears.
- Earwax blockage
The wax inside your ear canal performs the task of trapping dirt and keeping a check on the growth of bacteria. However with the accumulation of earwax over time, the ear canal gets blocked, resulting in hearing loss or irritation of the eardrum, causing tinnitus.
Stiffening of the ear bones, or otosclerosis, a hereditary condition, may result in hearing loss leading to tinnitus.
- Meniere’s Disease
This disease is caused by anomalies in inner ear fluid pressure, and tinnitus can be an early pointer of this disorder.
- TMJ Disorders
Temporo-Mandibular Joint is the joint bone on either side of the skull in front of the ears, where the lower jaw bone meets the skull. Abnormalities with this bone may also cause tinnitus.
Tinnitus can significantly affect quality of life. Although it affects people differently, if you have tinnitus, you also may experience:
- Sleep problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Memory problems
- Anxiety and irritability
Treating these linked conditions may not affect tinnitus directly, but it can help you feel better.