Tinnitus is one of the common hearing problems that arises with age, although it can also affect younger people. It is a condition where there is a sound of ringing or roaring in the ears even though there is no actual sound from the environment. It is not a disease in itself but usually a symptom of an underlying condition such as ear deformity or a vascular disorder. Tinnitus is a common problem and the symptom is experienced by almost 1 among 5 people some time or other. The condition tends to worsen with age.
Tinnitus can be classified into two types.
Tinnitus is a symptom and the nature and volume of the sound can vary. It could appear in one or both ears and may be loud enough to interfere with the daily activities. The sound could be continuous or intermittent. Ringing, clicking, whistling, buzzing, roaring or hissing type of sounds are commonly reported. Tinnitus could also be associated with the following symptoms:
Tinnitus can be caused due to deformities of the ear, the auditory nerves or due to deformities in the part of the brain responsible for hearing. Tinnitus can result due to prolonged exposure to loud sounds such as those from chain saw, firearms, music systems or a prolonged use of audio players with earphones. Temporary tinnitus can result from a brief period of exposure to loud sounds. Irritation of the eardrum due to earwax or foreign body can cause tinnitus. Tinnitus is seen in the following medical conditions:
Certain medications such as erythromycin, vancomycin, chemotherapy, furosemide, quinine or chloroquine can cause tinnitus. Older people are at a greater risk of tinnitus. A significant number of cases of tinnitus are due to unknown reasons.
Hearing tests and imaging studies help in the diagnosis of tinnitus. The treatment mainly involves addressing the underlying cause of tinnitus when it can be identified. The following types of treatment thus can be helpful if they are the cause of tinnitus:
Counseling and retraining to distract a person from the sound can be helpful. Common medications used are tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline or nortriptyline, and alprazolam. The side effects of these drugs need to be taken into consideration before commencing with it.