Tinnitus is the conscious awareness of sound without an external stimulus. It can be a ringing sound, buzzing, rushing and for some people, even musical, which is experienced in the head or in one or both ears. It is one of the commonest physical symptoms and affects men and women equally.
Tinnitus is usually a symptom of something else. Common causes include:
|Natural Hearing Loss||As you get older, usually by the time you are fifty, the cells within the inner ear are damaged due to wear and tear, resulting in hearing loss. This is called Presbyacusis or Presbycusis. This might explain why tinnitus is most prevelant in those over sixty.
|Sudden sensorineural hearing loss||Sudden hearing loss can be due to a viral infection or autoimmune disease. Damage to the cells in the inner ear has a similar effect to that of ageing.|
|Noise exposure||Prolonged exposure to loud noise either through work or recreation can cause cell damage similar to that of ageing. If the sound is loudand intense enough such as gun shot or bomb blast, hearing loss can be sudden.
Hearing tests results usually reveal a dip at 4KHz. Advice on ear protection and hearing loss prevention to avoid further damage is beneficial.
|Acoustic Neuroma||This is a benign (non-cancerous) growth on a nerve.
Patients usually present with unilateral tinnitus and an asymmetry in hearing.
|Otosclerosis||A condition where there is a bony overgrowth of the stapes bone (also known as the stirrup), in the middle ear. The restricted movement results in a reduction in sound energy and therefore, the sound has to be louder in order to reach the middle ear. Patients can undergo surgery- a stapedectomy. This is a relatively uncommon cause of tinnitus.|
|Smoking||There is some suggestion that smoking increases the chances of hearing loss and tinnitus. Smoking is linked with cardiovascular disease and can reduce the amount of oxygen delivered to the cells in the inner ear, resulting in cell death. There may also be a link with higher stress levels in smokers.
|Ear wax||Ear wax or cerumen helps to keep the ear healthy and provides lubrication. If it builds up it can cause a blockage of sound so that you hear internal sounds much more, resulting in tinnitus, though it is uncommon.|
|Meniere’s||A balance condition thought to be caused by abnormal levels of sodium and postassium in the inner ear. It may be caused by a viral infection or could be autoimmune, resulting in a low frequency hearing loss which is fluctuating; this fluctuation in hearing eventually stops and the patient is left with a permanent hearing loss. Aural fullness and commonly a low frequency tinnitus sound is the warning sign that the patient is about to feel dizzy.
|Drugs||Tinnitus can be a result of medication such as:
Anti inflammatory drugs such as Aspirin (in high doses) or Ibuprofen.