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Tinnitus- Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Tinnitus is a term that refers to the sound that a person can hear as ringing in the ear.  Tinnitus is not a condition but a symptom of the abnormalities in the ear, usually caused by an ear injury, age-related hearing loss and disturbances in the circulatory system. Tinnitus is bothersome, but it does not usually mean a serious problem. It can worsen with age, but for younger people, tinnitus is highly manageable and treatable and rarely becomes a serious symptom. Identification and treatment of the underlying cause usually help to relieve tinnitus.

Causes of tinnitus

There are a number of factors causing tinnitus. One of the causes includes an inner ear damage which stops or alters the transmission of airwaves signal to the brain. As a result, the message sent is misinterpreted and usually cause the abnormal sounds occurring with tinnitus that is described as ringing or swishing. Natural hearing loss also decreases the sensitivity of the hearing nerves. Other causes include a buildup of earwax, middle ear infection, otosclerosis, Meniere's disease and perforated eardrums. Rarer causes include a head injury, exposure to very loud noise, high blood pressure, drug misuse or adverse reactions, acoustic neuroma and Paget's disease.

Symptoms of tinnitus


symptoms of tinnitus

Tinnitus is usually characterized by an annoying sound when no external sound is present. The sound may vary from low pitch sounds such as humming, murmuring and rumbling to high-pitched sounds such as hissing, whistling or buzzing. People with tinnitus tend to be sensitive even to the local sounds heard from the surroundings. Tinnitus is usually noticeable at certain times such as in a quiet environment. Some may hear the sound only when lying down, or during head movements.

Other types of sounds include low-frequency noise, musical hallucinations and pulsatile tinnitus. Sources of low frequency sounds include road and air traffic noise, underground gas pipes, fans or fridge and air conditioning unit. Musical hallucinations are usually common among individuals who suffer from tinnitus for a long term. Pulsatile tinnitus can be heard rhythmically along with your own pulse which can be caused by blood flow changes in the blood vessels near the ear or increased awareness of blood flow near the ears. Changes in the blood flow may occur as with persons with atherosclerosis wherein the blood cannot flow smoothly causing it to be noisy. In the cases of hearing loss or conductive hearing loss, you become more aware of the sounds inside your body than with the outside environment.

Diagnosis of tinnitus

Referral to specialist are done by the general practitioner once you have reported the symptoms and the other underlying cause of tinnitus has been ruled out. The ENT specialist will conduct an examination of your ears, may ask about the severity of the noises and the triggering factors. You may also be requested to undergo imaging studies such as CT scan or MRI scan to allow the specialist examine closely inside the ear and the auditory nerves. If hearing loss is suspected, you may be referred to an audiologist for proper diagnostics and management.


Management of tinnitus is focused on giving you a positive state of mind and to reach a point when you are no longer aware or bothered by tinnitus.

  • Correcting hearing loss is the aim of a specialist when testing for hearing loss. Commonly recommended treatments are surgery and hearing aid prescription.
  • Sound therapy involves the use of sound generators that fill the silence during quiet environments.
  • Tinnitus counseling is a talking therapy that helps you to learn more about tinnitus and the various ways of coping with it.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on changing the way you think about tinnitus and what to do about it. It helps reduce anxiety and improve one's coping abilities.
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy focuses on your natural ability of getting used to the sound so that it becomes a part of your subconscious.
  • Self help includes relaxation, listening to music and support groups.
  • Antidepressants may be prescribed which may be given in combination with counseling

Some people with tinnitus are able to live with it. However, it can be bothersome and can impact day-to-day living greatly. If you are suffering from tinnitus, contact your primary health care provider immediately for proper identification of underlying causes and proper management.

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