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Tinnitus is a condition characterized by perception of a sound, even though the external source of sound is non-existent. During such episodes, one might experience ringing, high frequency whistling, buzzing, roaring or other unpleasant noises, either in one ear or both of them. Although tinnitus is more prevalent in elderlies, it affects people regardless of age, gender and ethnicity. In majority of the cases, however, it does not indicate any serious conditions. Tinnitus is mainly associated with age-related hearing loss, prolonged exposure to noise and ear infections. According to the statistics given by University of Regensburg located in Germany, this condition affects up to 15% of global population in some degree. Nevertheless, serious incidents, which have significant impact on everyday routine, are seen only in 1% of all people.
Types of tinnitus
There are two major form of this condition:
- Subjective tinnitus: the most frequent type, which can be noticed only by the patient, as the name suggest. It can appear as a result of ears or nerves disorders, infections and administration of certain drugs.
- Objective tinnitus: extremely rare form, which can be observed only by other people. The leading causes of objective form include vascular disorders, myoclonus and muscle spasm.
Tinnitus is not a disease itself, but only a symptom of certain disorders. This unpleasant sensation has wide variety of possible causes, that range from mild to severe. Even some medications, such as antibiotics, diuretics and certain antidepressants can trigger the tinnitus. Apart from aforementioned drugs, mild cases of tinnitus usually appear due to:
- Noise inducted or age-related (presbyacusis) hearing loss. In fact, age related hearing loss is the second most common disease in people above 70 years old.
- Noise exposure – frequently as a result of operating heavy machinery in work place or using headphones.
- Ear infections – such as swimmer ear
- Earwax impaction – since excess of earwax can actually irritate eardrum and lead to sound generation.
- Nasal congestion
What is more, tinnitus may appear due to more serious disorders as well. They may include, for instance:
- Head trauma, such as concussion or skull fracture
- Brain tumour
- Diseases related with thyroid malfunctions
Diagnosis and treatment
When it comes to diagnosis, a specialist will ask about sound characteristics and intensity. Afterwards, a physical examination is required, since it may reveal the most popular causes of tinnitus. Other possible methods include pure tone audiometry and imaging. Whereas treatment needs to be adjusted according to an underlying disorder. In most of the incidents, earwax removal is done at first. If the sound is triggered by medications, the specialist will presumably replace them with adequate substitute. For more complicated cases, surgery or noise suppression therapy might be required.
Depending on the intensity and timing, this condition can influence the patient’s life. It can alter the mood, especially when prolonged, leading to stress, concentration problems, anxiety or even depression. In addition, some of the victims claim that the sound can be so loud, it might even interrupt the sleep. That is why sleep disorders are occasionally seen in those with severe tinnitus.
When to see a doctor
Even though it may be perceived as threatening, tinnitus usually does not indicate any serious disorder and frequently disappears spontaneously after short period of time. Nevertheless, one should seek professional help immediately, if such unpleasant feeling appeared shortly after the head or neck injury. It may be a sign of a head trauma, such as skull fracture and concussion, or whiplash. Other alarming symptoms include dizziness, vision disorders, vomiting and fainting.