Are you experiencing hissing, clicking, or whistling sounds in your ear? Well, some of these sounds are normal, but if they last for more than 24 hours, there is a need to consult the advice of an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist since you might be suffering from tinnitus.
Tinnitus is when both of your ears develop internal ringing or other noises due to damage to the cochlea, an ear injury, or a challenge with the circulatory system. It is always advisable to start treatments as soon as possible to minimize developing chronic tinnitus.
Although there are no external sounds experienced, the magnitude of noises may vary from a low roar to a high screech. Some of the common symptoms include:
- Persistent high or low buzzing in ears
- Ceaseless roaring in ears
- Pulsation or beating noises in ears
- Loss of hearing ability
Some of these symptoms can completely interfere with your hearing or concentration abilities causing temporary or permanent tinnitus.
Causes of Tinnitus
There is no specific cause of tinnitus, but some underlying medical conditions can cause or worsen it. In most cases, tinnitus is caused by one of the following:
Your inner ear has tiny, delicate hair cells known as cochlea that responds whenever there are sound waves in your ear. In case these hairs break or bend, they tend to leak random electrical impulses to your brain, leading to the development of tinnitus.
Loss of tiny sensory hair in the cochlea is more common in older people or when a person has extended exposure to excessively loud noise.
Blockage in the Ear Canal
The ear canal can be blocked if there is fluid accumulation, earwax, dirt, or other foreign materials. Blockage in the canal interferes with pressure distribution causing tinnitus.
Head or Neck Trauma
Head or neck injuries can damage the inner ear or the nervous system. Tinnitus caused by such injuries lasts for 12 months only.
Some drugs such as antibiotics, cancer drugs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, and others are known to cause tinnitus. There is an increased potential risk of tinnitus if these drugs are taken at a higher dosage.
Underlying Medical Conditions
This is a less common cause of tinnitus. Existing medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid problems, anemia, autoimmune disorders, and others are highly linked with tinnitus.
Other possible causes of tinnitus are:
- Stiffening of the middle ear bones.
- Diseases such as cardiovascular and Meniere’s disease.
- Eustachian tube dysfunction.
- Muscle spasms in the cochlea.
- Traumatic brain injury.
- Temporomandibular joint disorders
Although there are common causes of tinnitus, some of these factors may surge your risk:
Individuals with direct loud noise exposure such as heavy machinery, chain saws, and firearms have increased tinnitus chances.
People who use headphones or other portable music devices at a high volume for an extended period have a high risk of developing tinnitus. Also, people who spend most of their time in production factories or construction sites, musicians, soldiers are at risk.
Tinnitus is more common in older adults due to the reduction of nerve fibers in the ears, which occurs due to old age. This, in turn, results in hearing problems which can lead to tinnitus.
Males are known to have an increased prevalence of tinnitus since they are more exposed to noisy environments such as manufacturing, construction, and military service.
Drugs and Substance Abuse
Substance abuse such as the use of alcohol and tobacco increases the risk of developing tinnitus.
Certain health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, head injury, and others can increase your risk of developing tinnitus.
ENT specialists are medical practitioners with unique skills in treating conditions such as ear infection, hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, and others. If an ENT specialist identifies a particular cause for your tinnitus, they can provide a specific diagnosis to eliminate the noise.
Unlike objective tinnitus, which can be detected through a stethoscope or recording device, most tinnitus types are not detectable.
The ENT specialists will conduct various diagnostic tests to identify the causes and tinnitus type causing your symptoms. Also, the doctor may rely on the patient’s description of the ringing noises occurrences and how it impacts his or her daily activities. The ENT will conduct the following tests:
1. Thorough Physical Examination
Before conducting a physical exam, your ENT specialist will conduct a comprehensive medical history to determine how severe it is.
You will be asked about the intervals of tinnitus happenings, when your symptoms began, and how it impacts your everyday life.
Also, you will provide details of the tinnitus sounds like the tonal quality, intensity, duration, etc. You are supposed to disclose your present and past medical conditions or any medications you might use.
After that, the ENT doctor will use a handheld magnifying instrument to conduct a detailed physical examination of your ears and the delicate interior structures. At this point, your doctor can reduce the symptoms by diagnosing the underlying cause, such as:
- Elimination of Earwax: Getting rid of earwax can reduce tinnitus symptoms.
- Treating Blood vessel Condition: If you have an existing blood vessel condition, surgery or any other medication may be recommended to address the problem.
- Change of medications: If tinnitus results from certain drug use, dosage may be changed or reduced.
2. Hearing Test
Performing a comprehensive hearing test will help the doctor evaluate the functionality of certain parts of your ears, such as the external auditory canal, the middle ear system, the inner ear, and other sensitive parts which transmit electrical signals to the brain. The audiologist will analyze your hearing’s various features, not omitting the functionality of your ear bones in conducting a sound and how well your middle and inner ears are functioning.
After conducting a hearing test, your will be able to determine whether tinnitus is independent of hearing loss. Your doctor may offer the following solution:
- Use of Hearing Aids: Tinnitus which occurs as a result of noise or age, can be treated using hearing aids to improve the symptoms.
- Noise Suppression: Since there is no specific tinnitus cure, your doctor may recommend electronic devices such as white noise machines and masking devices to subdue the noise and make the symptoms less noticeable.
Audiologists in New Jersey works together with our ENT physicians at Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy to ensure all patients with ear-related problems are have found a solution.
3. Imaging Tests
Your ENT specialist can conduct an MRI scan, CT scan, or ultrasound to enhance further diagnosis. The imaging test is more detailed since it portrays a clear visualization of inner structures, including the ear’s inner ear and nerves.
Facts About Tinnitus
Tinnitus is a common disease and affects
about 15% to 20% of people every year. It is prevalent in older adults but not limited to children and adolescents. Unfortunately, there is no specific cure for tinnitus since it is a symptom of an existing problem, but it can be managed. An overwhelming majority of people suffering from tinnitus adapt to the ringing volume with time, but others find it difficult to adjust.