Tinnitus is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. Being a common problem, tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 people. However, 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 it can be very bothersome, tinnitus usually isn't a sign of something serious. Although it can worsen with age, for many people, tinnitus can also improve with treatment. Treating an identified underlying cause sometimes helps. Other treatments reduce or mask the noise, making tinnitus less noticeable. So, here is everything you need to know about hearing heartbeat in ears – tinnitus.
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, 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 a benign tumor of the nerve that allows us to hear
- Certain drugs - most commonly 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
- Other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, circulatory problems, , allergies, an underactive thyroid gland, and diabetes
Ringing-in-the-ears or a fullness-of-the-head sensation are the most common symptoms of tinnitus. While ringing is the most common experience, the noise can also sound like a buzzing, hissing or whizzing sound. It can range from a low pitch to a high pitch and may be soft or loud at times. In some cases, tinnitus seems to get louder at night, just before sleep when no other sounds are competing with it. Tinnitus can remain constant or come and go intermittently. In severe cases, the ringing in the ears is loud enough to interfere with work or daily activity, whereas those with mild tinnitus can experience soft ringing that is no more than a minor annoyance.
Anyone can experience tinnitus, but these factors may increase your risk:
- Loud noise exposure. Prolonged exposure to loud noise can damage the tiny sensory hair cells in your ear that transmit sound to your brain. People who work in noisy environments are particularly at risk.
- Age. As you age, the number of functioning nerve fibers in your ears declines, possibly causing hearing problems often associated with tinnitus.
- Gender. Men are more likely to experience tinnitus.
- Smoking. Smokers have a higher risk of developing tinnitus.
- Cardiovascular problems. Conditions that affect your blood flow, such as high blood pressure or narrowed arteries can increase your risk of tinnitus.
The first step is to treat any underlying cause of tinnitus.
This may involve:
- prompt care for an ear infection
- discontinuing any ototoxic medications
- treating any temporomandibular joint problems, which affect the joint between the jaw bone and the cheek bone
There is no cure for most cases of tinnitus. Most people become accustomed to it and learn to tune it out. Ignoring it rather than focusing on it can provide great relief. Moreover, when this does not work, the individual may benefit from treatment for the effects of tinnitus, insomnia, anxiety, hearing difficulties, social isolation, and depression. Dealing with these issues can significantly improve a person's quality of life.
In case you have tinnitus, you might be feeling frustrated and helpless, but there is hope! The first step is to consult a hearing care professional. There are also audiologists who specialize in managing tinnitus and many non-medical ways to help you regain your quality of life.