Tinnitus (TIN-ih-tus) is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. A common problem, tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 people. Tinnitus isn’t a condition itself — it’s a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder.
Although bothersome, tinnitus usually isn’t a sign of something serious. Although it can worsen with age, for many people, tinnitus can improve with treatment. Treating an identified underlying cause sometimes helps. Other treatments reduce or mask the noise, making tinnitus less noticeable.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Prolonged exposure to loud sounds is the most common cause of tinnitus. Up to 90% of people with tinnitus have some level of noise-induced hearing loss. The noise causes permanent damage to the sound-sensitive cells of the cochlea, a spiral-shaped organ in the inner ear. Carpenters, pilots, rock musicians, street-repair workers, and landscapers are among those whose jobs put them at risk, as are people who work with chain saws, guns, or other loud devices or who repeatedly listen to loud music. A single exposure to a sudden extremely loud noise can also cause tinnitus.
A variety of other conditions and illnesses can lead to tinnitus, including:
- Blockages of the ear due to a buildup of wax, an ear infection, or rarely, a benign tumor of the nerve that allows us to hear (auditory nerve)
- Certain drugs — most notably aspirin, several types of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, sedatives, and antidepressants, as well as quinine medications; tinnitus is cited as a potential side effect for about 200 prescription and nonprescription drugs.
- The natural aging process, which can cause deterioration of the cochlea or other parts of the ear
- Meniere’s disease, which affects the inner part of the ear
- Otosclerosis, a disease that results in stiffening of the small bones in the middle ear
- Other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, circulatory problems, anemia, allergies, an underactive thyroid gland, autoimmune disease, and diabetes
- Neck or jaw problems, such as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome
- Injuries to the head and neck
Tinnitus can worsen in some people if they drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, drink caffeinated beverages, or eat certain foods. For reasons not yet entirely clear to researchers, stress and fatigue seem to worsen tinnitus.
SOURCES: WebMD, Mayoclinic, Facebook