Around 10% of People Experience it, but What is Tinnitus?

Almost everyone will have experienced the condition at some point in their lives, but if asked what tinnitus actually is, most will be unable to say much more than that it is the sensation of ringing in the ears. Fortunately, however, for the majority of those who experience it, the condition is temporary.

The most common cause is exposure to a sudden loud noise. A jack hammer operating nearby, a gunshot, an exploding firework or an exceptionally loud peel of thunder will often leave an individual with partial hearing loss that makes all sounds appear muffled and which is commonly accompanied by this ringing sensation. These symptoms may persist for just a few minutes, for several hours or even for a day or two, but normal hearing is eventually restored.

So what is tinnitus? In practice, it is a symptom rather than an illness in its own right, and may indicate any one of several underlying conditions, which may be as simple as a build-up of wax in the ears. Apart from loud noises, it may also be triggered by stress, anxiety, depression or fatigue, as well as by certain types of medication. It is, in addition, a common accompaniment to deafness, but one that can usually be alleviated by wearing a hearing aid. Many of those affected actually perceive sounds other than ringing. These include, whistling, rustling, clicking, buzzing, humming and even sounds that resemble music or voices. Around 10% of people experience bouts of these symptoms on a fairly regular basis. More seriously, though, in as much as 5% of all adults, they are persistent.

Any attempt to explain what is meant by tinnitus, should mention the fact that it can be classified as either of two distinct types – subjective and objective. In the former type, the sounds heard can only be perceived by the patient and an examining physician will detect no audible evidence of them, thus the symptoms are purely subjective, although no less real to the patient. In cases where the doctor may also be able to discern the sounds experienced by the patient, the condition is then classified as objective.

For those whose symptoms are persistent, the impact on their lifestyles can be extremely debilitating. Without some sort of treatment, in many cases, the victims of this condition will be unable to sleep or to concentrate well enough to do their job efficiently or even to work at all. Moreover, the stress and anxiety that result, only serve to intensify their symptoms, creating a vicious circle from which it is difficult to escape.

What is the cure for tinnitus? The reality is that there is no cure although, happily, there are a number of ways in which to manage these symptoms well enough for those who are affected by it to live more normal lives. Where, for instance, these symptoms are accompanied by hearing loss, the simple act of prescribing a hearing aid can serve to reduce their intensity to a point where the ear will ignore them. White noise generators can also condition the ear to become less conscious of this intrusive whistling or ringing. There is also strong evidence for the role of micronutrients and anti-oxidants in promoting aural health.

What is tinnitus? An incurable symptom that, fortunately, is manageable.

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