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Tinnitus

What is tinnitus ?

Tinnitus is the medical term used to describe any noise that we hear that has no external source, i.e. it is in our ears or head. Tinnitus is often described as a ringing noise but other people may say it is more of a buzzing, humming, waving or whistling sound. Tinnitus is remarkably common and can occur at any age. It can be experienced intermittently and with varying degrees of intensity, or in the worst case, tinnitus might be experienced all the time. It is estimated that 5% of adults have suffered from bothersome tinnitus at some point. In fact, tinnitus may be extremely severe almost to the point where listening to, and understanding speech, can become almost impossible

Fortunately, usually tinnitus proves not to be too bothersome. You may recall noticing a distinct ringing in the ears that comes on suddenly and slowly goes away after a minute or two. You may have also hadinstances where persistent loud sounds at musical concerts have brought on the same ringing sensation. Temporary tinnitus can also result from a bad cold or the ears being blocked with wax.

What causes tinnitus?

Most tinnitus is caused by a problem with the cochlea hair cells and nerves attached to the inner ear, when the perception of what should normally be a quiet sound in the ear is exaggerated and becomes predominant. The person becomes increasingly aware of the sound and concentrates on it more and more. It is a bit of a vicious circle when your emotions become involved as you can get more distressed about it the more you think about it.

Tinnitus is often linked to hearing loss. For this reason it’s more common in older people who have age-related hearing loss. But it can also result from a head or ear injury, ear infections, diseases or even derive from emotional stress.

Exposure to loud noise may also cause tinnitus so wearing hearing protection is vitally important when working in noisy environments or when listening to loud music. Consider wearing sound insulating in-ear monitors when listening to i-Pods or MP3 players to help prevent exposure to dangerous sound levels for prolonged periods of time.

Tinnitus can be caused by an extremely wide range of factors. Tinnitus is not an illness or a disease; it is called a ‘non-specific symptom’ as it can accompany almost any physical or mental change in your life. The actual life event which triggers the tinnitus may not even be hearing-related. Some other common tinnitus triggers are listed below:

– General health: sinus congestion, cardio vascular problems, diabetes, thyroid conditions, migraines, fibromyalgia, vertigo, head trauma, whiplash

– Mental health: change in stress levels e.g. retirement, redundancy, or bereavement, depression, anxiety

– Discomfort: noisy clubs/concerts, minor head injury, ear syringing.

– Medication: high-dose aspirin, certain chemotherapy and antiviral drugs, loop diuretics, chloroquine for malaria, and some antidepressants.