Common Underlying Causes Of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is not a disease in itself but rather a symptom of another underlying condition. It presents itself as annoying phantom noises heard in the ear. Causes may vary from serious to mild. The majority are not threatening, but a few are dangerous. For most people symptoms will improve with treatment.
Many people experience symptoms occasionally but are not bothered by it enough to see a doctor. The most common manifestations include ringing, clicking, hissing, buzzing, and whistling noises in your ears. The noises may be heard in one or both ears and may vary in pitch and volume. Symptoms may come and go or persist.
Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is a common cause. Hearing diminishes with age for many people, generally starting around age 60, and this can cause symptoms. On the other hand, a frequent source of symptoms in young people is exposure to loud noise. This can come in the form of listening to headphones with the volume too high, attending a loud concert, or even the noise generated by firearms or heavy equipment. Short-term exposure will not cause lasting damage, but long-term exposure can cause permanent damage.
Earwax, normally an essential part of your ear’s health, can lead to hearing loss and eardrum irritation if it builds up. This is called cerumenal impaction. A condition that runs in families called otosclerosis causes abnormal bone growth. It leads to the stiffening of the bones in the middle ear and may affect your hearing.
There are other causes of tinnitus which are less common but can be more serious. Acoustic neuroma is a benign (noncancerous) tumor that develops on the cranial nerve which connects the inner ear and brain. Vascular neoplasms are head and neck tumors that press on blood vessels in your head and neck.
Some medications also cause or worsen tinnitus. Most of the time higher doses of the medication cause worse symptoms. Once medication is halted symptoms generally go away.
Although for most people tinnitus is merely an annoyance, for others it can be damaging to their quality of life. Significant and persistent symptoms can cause a number of detrimental conditions. When symptoms are not directly treatable and associated conditions are causing problems, treating those conditions may be an option.
Though the cause is never found in many cases, the specific sounds heard can point to the root condition. Clicking can be caused by muscle contractions around your ear. Hearing your own heartbeat can be a sign of blood vessel related problems, or pulsatile tinnitus. Low-pitched ringing can be caused by Meniere’s disease if heard in one ear. High-pitched ringing is often caused by exposure to loud noise or a physical bash on the ear.
An estimated 1 out of 5 people experience symptoms in varying degrees but for most they neither bother them nor is the underlying cause a threat. If a patient requires treatment, their doctor will first attempt to identify to treat the root condition which is causing symptoms. For some, white noise devices have been helpful in treating the sounds associated with tinnitus.