What does tinnitus mean to you? Most people think of it simply as a ringing in the ears, and although this can be part of it, there is a slightly wider definition than that – the true definition of tinnitus, and the one that The Hearing Clinic UK works with, is any awareness of a sound in the ears of within the head that has no external source. So it doesn’t have to be ringing; it could be buzzing, whistling, hissing, or anything else that has no external reason for being there. What’s particularly interesting is that the pitch can change over time, as can the volume.
In its very mildest form, tinnitus is fairly common. Most people will experience a ‘ringing’ in their ears at some point, usually after having emerged from a loud place like a concert. However, about 10 percent of the UK adult population experience tinnitus much more frequently, and five percent find that it is so bad it actually affects the quality of their life.
Different types of Tinnitus?
You can have either subjective, or objective tinnitus. Subjective is that which can only be heard by the sufferer themselves, and it is the most common form of this condition.
Objective is much rarer, and is tinnitus which someone carrying out an ear examination can hear as well as the person suffering from it. It might be caused by a spasm of the minuscule muscles within the inner ear, increased blood flow to the area, or blood vessel abnormalities; whatever is causing it, it is a physical problem.
Whats the cause?
No matter the reasons, what is evident is that the signal that should go from the ear to the brain (to the auditory cortex to be specific) is damaged or not working in some way. This could be caused by number of different reasons:
- Hearing loss – When hearing loss first begin, tinnitus can be one of the symptoms. However, bear in mind that a third of those who suffer from tinnitus have no other hearing issues.
- Loud noise – Noise is one of the biggest reasons that people develop tinnitus. It might be over-exposure to loud music through headphones, or even through concert-type events, or it could be due to the work they do and the environment in which they do it. Even a single loud noise at close range can cause irreparable hearing damage.
- Head injury – Just over 10 percent of those suffering from tinnitus developed it after a head, neck, or ear injury.
- Ear infection – An ear infection can cause blocked hearing, and tinnitus can often occur. The good news is, this is usually temporary.
- Ear disease – Similar to an ear infection, ear disease (of which there are a variety) can cause high pitched noises in the ear. However, these diseases are often more serious than a simple ear infection, and should be check out medically.
- Medication – Some medications, even those that can be bought over the counter have tinnitus listed as one of the side effects that can occur when it is taken. There are about 200 different drugs (prescription and non-prescription) that list tinnitus as a side effect.
- Stress – Stress may begin as a mental health issue, but it soon causes problems throughout the body, and in some cases those problems include tinnitus.