Tinnitus is a condition that causes a person to hear sounds and noises that no one else can hear. Tinnitus is a fairly common condition that occurs in about 10% of the population. Tinnitus is normally found in the elderly however more recent studies have shown an increase in tinnitus occurrence in younger populations. More than likely this change in occurrence is due to the increased exposure of younger generations to loud noises such as music, guns, blow dryers, etc. People who suffer from tinnitus hear different sounds such as musical tones, hissing, whistling, buzzing or ringing. No two people will hear exactly the same noise. Most affected people find these noises to be no more than an annoyance or nuisance but are able to continue on with their daily lives. However, in some instances tinnitus can greatly affect ones quality of life due to the constant inconvenience of the noise.
Tinnitus can be put into two categories, objective and subjective. Only a doctor can differentiate between the two types. Objective tinnitus can actually be perceived as sound emanating from the ear. Anatomical body sounds such as muscle spasms, heart beat or pulse, and blood flow can all be heard through the ear of the patient. Subjective tinnitus is more common because it describes the symptoms that the patient is feeling. In subjective tinnitus sounds are not present for the doctor to hear emanating from the ear.
Tinnitus has no cure and determining the exact cause of tinnitus is difficult. There are four areas that tinnitus can stem from, the outer ear, middle ear, inner ear and brain. Wax or foreign bodies can block the noise from outside and can cause damage to the outer ear. In the middle ear fluid, infection, or disease in the bones of the ear or in the eardrum can cause damage. Damage to the nerves in the inner ear can distort noise. Lastly, abnormalities in the brain can cause symptoms of tinnitus.
Additionally, several disease, deficiencies, drugs, and emotional factors that can cause the symptoms of tinnitus as well. However the most common cause is damage to the nerves in the inner ear (cochlea). The nerves in the cochlea transmits electrical impulses to the brain which interprets these signals that are sent to the brain are distorted. Distorted signals are interpreted by the brain as noise. Determining how the nerves become damaged is the ultimate cause of tinnitus symptoms.
Elderly people are more likely to experience the symptoms of tinnitus. As we age like many other areas of the body, the inner ear or middle ear gradually change which causes symptoms of hearing loss. Age related hearing loss is called presbyacusis. The change in the ears occurs over longer period of times and normally occurs in both ears. In younger persons exposure to loud noises can cause hearing loss as well. Cumulative effects of repeated exposure to loud noise will ultimately lead to presbyacusis. Depending upon duration of exposure and frequency of sound will determine if the nerves in the ear are damaged. In some cases, damage can cause temporary hearing loss however permanent damage can cause tinnitus or the need for hearing aids. Although, not all tinnitus symptoms are caused by exposure to loud environments or due to old age. Some of the changes that can occur within the ear include otosclerosis. Ear bone changes causes stiffening of the bones in the middle ear. This abnormal growth puts pressure on the other bones and nerves within the ear.
Our normal body functioning such as breathing, heart beating, muscle contractions and blood flow all make noise. However, most people don’t hear these noises because we are surrounded by noise that masks our ability to hear these minuscule sounds. However, if you eliminate outside noise, it is more likely you will hear your own body’s anatomical sounds. Additionally certain changes in the body can cause you to hear these sounds more readily.
Metabolic disorders in the body can cause symptoms of tinnitus due to defects that interfere with ones metabolism. Most metabolic disorders are genetic in nature, meaning they are passed on by their parent’s genetic makeup. Metabolic disorders may cause abnormal enzyme function, the body produces too much or too little of a necessary substance, or can’t break down certain substances. Common metabolic disorders that cause tinnitus are thyroid disease, hyperlipidemia, vitamin B12 deficiency, and iron deficiency anemia.
Anemia is a condition where the blood becomes thinned of red blood cells, which provide oxygen and nutrients to the body. Thinned blood rushes through the veins so quickly, that it causes a sound. Anemia can cause fatigue and ultimately death, if not taken care of immediately.
Menieres disease is a disorder that causes abnormal flow of inner ear fluid, which affects hearing and balance. Normally causing hearing loss and tinnitus in one ear, Menieres disease causes inner ear fluid pressure buildup. More unlikely causes of tinnitus include a brain aneurysm, brain tumor or acoustic neuroma. Aneurysms commonly occur in arteries at the base of the brain. A bulge occurs in the blood vessels and fills up with blood and risk rupturing with increasing size. As the size of an aneurysm grows the more pressure it puts on the surrounding blood vessels. Brain tumors and acoustic neuroma, a non-cancerous benign tumor, that occurs in the brain puts pressure on the blood vessels which cuts off the nutrients and oxygen supply to the brain. Therefore the brain interprets increased blood pressure as distorted sounds. Acoustic neuromas normally occur on the cranial nerve that runs from the brain to the inner ear, which affects balance and hearing.
Earwax also known as cerumen is secreted in the ear canal to protect the earfrom bacteria, fungus, insects, and water. Regular removal of earwax should be maintained as to not allow an excess of wax build up. Although Q-tips were originally designed to aid in the removal of earwax, now they are tough to be more hazardous than helpful. By using a Q-tip you can cause the earwax to go deeper into the ear canal, which can cause an impaction against the eardrum. When the wax is pressed up against the eardrum it causes the brain to perceive these as noise signals.
Head, neck and Temporalmandibular joint (TMJ) injuries also have their affect on tinnitus. Chiari malformation, multiple sclerosis, skull fracture, whiplash, closed head injury, and TMJ disorders all affect the ears, nerves and blood vessels of the brain. Injuries and disorders cause abnormalities so the brain perceives electric impulses differently than it would in a normal persons brain. Neurological disorders also cause malfunctions in the brain, which can cause tinnitus symptoms.
Prescription medication and over the counter drugs also affect the bodies ability to decipher sound waves. Drugs both legal and illegal can cause the brain to receive distorted signals, which can cause tinnitus. Aspirin, antibiotics, cancer medications, diuretics, quinine and cloroquinine can all cause symptoms of tinnitus.
Lastly stress plays a huge role on the bodies ability to function properly. Unfortunately stress can inhibit the brains ability to interpret and perceive stimulus. Atherosclerosis, high blood pressure depression, anxiety, and nervousness are stressors that take toll on the body causing malfunctions in its ability to perform. Therefore the brain can misinterpret electrical impulses, which causes tinnitus.
Unfortunately with so many causes of tinnitus it’s hard to quickly determine which one is causing the subjective or objective symptoms. Therefore it can be a long drawn out process to find your specific cause of your condition. Until then tinnitus can be a huge inconvenience and annoyance on your life. Plus the amount of testing and treatments that you try without relief can be disappointing. However, there are many alternative medicines that can be useful in diminishing your symptoms until you can resolve your current condition completely.