Are you experiencing ringing, humming, clicking or whistling in your ear? If you've started to hear these noises when no external sounds are present, it's normal to be worried. It could mean nothing and the noise will eventually disappear, but it could mean that you have tinnitus.
Tinnitus is not a cause of hearing loss and although the symptoms can be irritating, they can be alleviated. This helpful guide will tell you everything you need to know about tinnitus and what treatments there are available to help you lessen the day-to-day impact of living with the condition.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is usually caused by damage to the inner ear, and causes you to experience noises in your ears when there are no external sounds present.
In your inner ear, there are tiny hairs that respond to the pressure of sound waves and send electrical impulses to the brain through the auditory nerve. If these tiny hairs become damaged, they can send random electrical sounds to your brain, which result in the sounds of tinnitus.
Different types of tinnitus
Subjective tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus. The severity of the condition affects different people in different ways. Clinically, tinnitus is usually rated on a scale of 'slight' to 'catastrophic', depending on the degree to which the condition affects your life.
Some people suffer with pulsatile tinnitus – where the sound of tinnitus synchronises with your pulse. Plus, people with tinnitus are more likely to suffer with a condition called hyperacusis – where even the sound of the television or radio is painfully loud.
What causes tinnitus?
There are a number of different factors that can cause or worsen the symptoms you experience with tinnitus.
A middle ear infection, a problem with your inner ear or a large build-up of wax can each cause the sound of tinnitus in your ear. Sometimes, tinnitus can be caused by experiencing a very loud noise, or a blow to the head.
In addition, the condition can relate to body posture, which can cause you to hear the sounds of tinnitus when you are sitting, lying down or turning your head. This is because making these types of movement can change the pressure in your nerves, muscles or blood vessels, which in turn can trigger tinnitus.
If you're persistently experiencing the sounds associated with tinnitus, it is important that you go and see your GP to get diagnosed. Your GP will then examine your ears and ask you about any noises you're experiencing.
If your GP believes that you have a problem, they may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. This specialist will then carry out tests in order to determine or rule out any possible underlying causes of your tinnitus.
If your ENT specialist can help find an underlying cause for your tinnitus, it can prove invaluable for treating the condition. For example, if your condition is found to be caused by a middle ear infection or a large build-up of wax, you may be able to use antibiotics or ear drops to help treat the condition.
Living with tinnitus
To live with tinnitus effectively, it is very important that you are able to establish what triggers the condition. As such, you should consider thinking about whether your tinnitus is worse during particular times of the day, or whether there is anything you do that makes the sound of tinnitus better or worse. This way, you'll be better prepared for managing your day in a way that helps you to live with the symptoms of tinnitus.
For a list of natural remedies and lifestyle changes, try Tower Health’s Tinnitus Infographic.