Tinnitus – Its Causes, its Consequences and its Treatment

The phenomenon known as tinnitus may be defined quite simple as the occurrence of sounds within the ear that cannot be attributed to any external source. As such, it falls into two classes that are referred to as objective and subjective. In the latter case, the sounds heard may also be perceived by an examining physician or audiologist. In such cases, the cause is often nothing more sinister than muscular spasms that result in crackling noises or clicking in the region of the middle ear.

One other objective manifestation may occur due to turbulence in local blood vessels that mimics the heartbeat and is thus described as pulsatile tinnitus. Only rarely are these objective manifestations of medical significance. By contrast when this symptom is subjective in nature, it is not discernible to third parties and it may have some hearing-related implications. It is important to stress that the occurrence of these sounds, which can present in numerous ways including ringing, buzzing, humming, hissing and whistling, is purely a symptom and not an illness in itself. Such sounds will, on occasions, prove to be a reflection of some underlying condition. However, quite often, these curious and sometimes rather annoying, noises can appear to have no readily discernible cause.

Among the more common causes of tinnitus is a build-up of wax in the ear canal or a middle-ear infection. The condition known as Ménière’s disease which affects the middle ear and disrupts its balancing mechanism can also be responsible. The symptom may also be experienced temporarily following a blow to the head or exposure to a sudden loud noise such as a gunshot. When one-sided and accompanied by hearing difficulties it is often a sign that it’s time for a hearing test.

In some subjects the noises are faint and easily ignored, but for others they are loud enough to interfere with concentration and to cause insomnia. While all occurrences should be investigated regardless of their severity, where the tinnitus is sufficiently intense to cause psychological stress, it should never be ignored. Generally, dealing with any underlying hearing disorder, will also tend to alleviate the noises. In other cases, however, there are also ways in which to manage its effects. These include the use of soothing sounds such as music to mask the less desirable sounds until, in time; it becomes possible to ignore them unaided.

As an alternative, a course of cognitive behavioural therapy under the guidance of an experienced therapist can achieve much the same effect. More recently, an oral preparation consisting of micronutrients and powerful antioxidants has become available from the Ear Institute and is proving very effective for tinnitus control.

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