Tinnitus is defined as the perception of sound, in the absence of any corresponding external sound.
This can present itself in a number of ways.
Location: It can sound like it is coming from one ear, both ears or even the centre of your head.
Duration: Some people can hear their tinnitus continuously, while others report that their tinnitus is intermittent.
Tinnitus can present itself in any age group, including children. Around 30% of individuals will experience tinnitus at some point in their life. Although it is more prevalent in those with hearing loss or ear problems, it does also present itself in those individuals with normal hearing.
It can be difficult to know what exactly causes an individual’s tinnitus, as this can vary due to a number of factors. Something that we do understand though, is that its onset is usually as a result of a mental or physical change, and may not be ear related at all. According to the British Tinnitus Association, some causes may include:
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Hair cells in the inner ear become damaged or deplete due to ‘wear and tear’ over the years. This may cause hearing loss, which may make the tinnitus sound louder, as it is not being masked by environmental sounds.
It is uncertain as to whether stress/anxiety causes tinnitus; however, many patients do notice that their tinnitus becomes exacerbated during times of stress.
Individuals build up different amounts of wax depending on the shape and size of the ear canals. This can cause impacted wax which can essentially act as an ear plug, and cause a ‘conductive hearing loss’, making it more difficult to hear external sounds to mask the tinnitus. See Wax Removal Page for more info
Also known as otitis media with effusion (or OME), often affecting children, where there is a build up of fluid in the middle ear due to a malfunction of the Eustachian tube. In many cases, glue ear manages to resolve itself without any need of medical interventions. In other cases however, intervention such as grommets may be required.
This can be caused by acute or chronic infections, sudden change in air pressure (such as when diving), trauma (such as cotton buds in the ear) or extremely loud sounds. This is usually accompanied by pain in the ear.
Hair cells damaged by loud sounds gradually over a long period of time, or due to a short burst of a very loud noise. If you are exposed to loud noises on a daily basis, it is important to protect your ears from any permanent damage by using ear protection.
Ear infections are a common cause of hearing loss and/or tinnitus. This can usually be resolved through prescription medication from a doctor.
This is a balance disorder which causes sudden attacks of tinnitus, hearing loss, vertigo (feeling like the room around you is spinning) and a sensation of pressure in the ear.
This is when there is abnormal bone growth of the middle ear bones (ossicles), more specifically the stapes (AKA stirrup). The stapes becomes fused with the surrounding bone, preventing sounds from efficiently transmitting to the cochlea (Web link to Hearing). This means that the individual may suffer with a degree of hearing loss. Treatment options may include fitting a hearing aid to compensate for the hearing loss, or other means such as surgery.
Head trauma, changes in blood flow (e.g. anaemia, high blood pressure), medication, acoustic neuroma (a growth on the hearing nerve), diabetes and thyroid disorders.