Ringing in Ears Getting Worse

What If the Ringing in Your Ears Is Getting Worse?

While almost everyone is likely to have experienced the phenomenon of ringing in the ears known as tinnitus to some degree, and on one or more occasions, in most cases, it would have been a transient experience which, rather than getting worse, would have faded within a few hours or less and at worst, would have lasted no more than a couple of days. The sensation would have been annoying and possibly even a bit of a distraction on occasions and, very possibly, it would also have been accompanied by muffled hearing.

Imagine, then, how you might have felt if that ringing in your ears worsened, rather than gradually faded. Sadly, for a surprisingly large number of people, this is not an imagined experience, but one that they are required to face every day of their lives.

These phantom noises, which may also take the form of buzzing, whistling, humming, whooshing, and an assortment of other sounds, vary in their intensity and thus also in the degree of stress they tend to cause. Additionally, in most cases, some level of hearing loss is likely to be present in parallel, which suggests that the two symptoms may be interconnected in some way. For the most part, those individuals who are affected over a prolonged period by these purely subjective sounds will claim that the sensation of ringing in the ears is feint and that, rather than getting worse, it remains constant and is relatively easy to ignore, tending only to become more apparent and troublesome during periods of relative silence.

While the root causes of tinnitus are manifold, there is a growing belief that the physiological mechanism responsible for the noises stems from damage to the sensory hair cells lining that part of the cochlea known as the organ of Corti. This is the body’s equivalent of a microphone and converts vibrations in the cochlear fluid into the nerve impulses required by the brain for the interpretation of sounds. It is believed that when damaged, these cells release free radicals that in turn cause the brain’s auditory cortex to experience anomalous sound sensations. Whatever the mechanism, the resulting ringing in one’s ears, especially if it’s getting worse, can be a daunting prospect for those who must live with it.

In some cases, tinnitus may be reversible. For example, when it is a side effect of the use of medications such as certain antibiotics, simply switching to an alternative medication can often be sufficient for the symptom to subside. The same is true when it is caused by exposure to a sudden loud noise. Providing that the exposure is not prolonged and repeated, once again, the sounds should fade and eventually disappear. In practice, however, there is currently no actual cure for tinnitus. Fortunately, though, there are some effective ways in which to make living with that ringing in the ears a whole lot easier, and to prevent it from getting any worse.

Counselling can often prove to be a good starting point and one that many have found helpful. It will normally take the form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a technique with which subjects are helped to ignore the irritating background sounds by focusing their attention elsewhere. The psychological type of approach, however, may not be the answer for everyone, so there are a couple of medications that are commonly prescribed which may serve to supress the symptoms of tinnitus. Among them is the tricyclic antidepressant amitriptyline, as well as the benzodiazepines such as Xanax, commonly used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. It should be borne in mind that their use to supress ringing in the ears and to stop it from getting worse may be accompanied by side effects, and there is also a risk that some could be addictive.

Alternative healing methods, such as hypnosis, meditation, and homeopathic preparations have all been claimed to be effective in alleviating tinnitus to varying degrees, as has the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture. More credible for most tinnitus sufferers, however, is the proven use of white noise, often used to limit distractions in open office areas, as an effective means to mask ringing in the ears and to stop it from getting worse. This remedy is accessible from a white noise generator built into a hearing aid, as a smartphone app, or from a CD. More details of these options can be obtained from Ear Institute clinics throughout South Africa.

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