Information on Tinnitus and ringing ears due to age-related hearing loss and other causes.
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What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus affects nearly 36 million Americans, and is described by ringing ears, swishing sounds, or varying form of noise in the ears. It is not a disease or serious problem itself, but is rather a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
There are two main functions of the ear – hearing and balance. While the inner ear is responsible for both hearing and balance, the middle and external ear structures perform the task of collecting sound and conducting it to where it can be interpreted by the nervous system. Tinnitus disrupts these normal functions, yet it rarely is a cause for serious concern—although the noise can be quite a nuisance for the sufferer, leading some to seek tinnitus treatment.
A medical history, physical examination, and tests are used to evaluate the cause for tinnitus. Discussing the onset of symptoms, including the severity, duration, and accompanying health conditions can also assist the doctor in making a proper diagnosis.
During the physical evaluation, the ears will be inspected to determine whether or not an accumulation of earwax may be the cause or contributor to the ringing or noises. Using a stethoscope, the doctor will also attempt to hear noises in the head and neck regions.
Other Tests for Tinnitus
- A brain stem response (ABR) may be used to test the hearing nerves and brain pathways
- A computer tomography scan (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) may be used to rule out a tumor occurring on the hearing or balance nerve.
There are two forms of tinnitus: subjective and pulsative. Subjective tinnitus refers to noises that only the sufferer is aware of; pulsatile tinnitus refers to noise from a vascular disorder or related condition that a doctor can detect.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus can occur in the outer, middle, or inner sections of the ear and in the brain. If outside noise is diminished, normal sounds emanating from these areas can be recognized, as they are usually masked by other outside noises. When any foreign material (such as wax) blocks these normal background sounds, awareness is increased.
Damage to the microscopic endings of the hearing nerve in the inner ear, caused by excessive loud noise exposure over time, can sometimes lead to tinnitus. Frequent exposure to loud sounds from tractors, heavy machinery, weapons, and portable music devices are all possible contributors.
Other Common Causes of Tinnitus
- Fluid, infection, or disease of the middle ear bones or ear drum can also lead to tinnitus.
- Around age 60, age-related hearing loss begins to occur, followed usually by tinnitus.
- Long-term use of certain medications such as high doses of aspirin or antibiotics can affect inner ear cells, but tinnitus usually dissipates when use of these drugs is discontinued.
- Change in ear bone structure caused by stiffening.
- Injury to the head or neck can lead to damage of the ear.
- Certain disorders of the blood vessels such as atherosclerosis, poor circulation, high blood pressure, turbulent blood flow, malformation of capillaries, or tumors can lead to pulsatile tinnitus.
- Meniere’s disease – a disorder of the inner ear
- Stress can make the symptoms of tinnitus worse
Help for Tinnitus
Tinnitus treatment varies, depending on the cause. If due to age-related hearing loss or damage to the ear, no tinnitus cure or tinnitus remedy exists. However, tinnitus relief can still be experienced through a combination of treatments. Addressing the underlying causes of tinnitus will go a long way to reducing the troublesome symptoms. So, for example, if poor circulation is a factor, taking steps to improve circulation will also help to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of tinnitus.
Many conventional medications achieve only limited success in tinnitus relief, and usually their bothersome side effects such as dry mouth, blurred vision, and constipation often discourage use.
- Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline
- Migraine medications gabapentin (Neurontin) and acamprosate (Campral)
- Baclofen (a muscle relaxant)
Although these tinnitus treatments have seen only limited or inconsistent results, the following tinnitus alternative remedies have also been used:
- Cochlear implant, an electronic hearing device
- Electrical stimulation
- Hyperbaric oxygen chamber
More Information on Tinnitus
There are many useful tips you can follow to help alleviate the bothersome effects and find tinnitus relief.
Tips for Ear Health
- Avoid exposure to loud noises, which can damage the sensitive structures in the ear.
- Remember that maintaining overall health will benefit all systems – including the ear.
- Maintain healthy circulation with regular exercise and a balanced diet.
- Support the health of the nervous system, as well as the joints and muscles of the head.
- Be aware that certain medications can affect the ear and cause problems in balance and hearing – even causing tinnitus. Consult your doctor if you need advice.
- Smoking has a negative effect on circulation and cardiovascular health – quit smoking if you want to promote clear hearing!
- Use natural remedies to promote the health of the ear and all its structures to provide natural tinnitus relief.