I’ve recently had quite a few patients suffering from tinnitus, so I thought I would take the opportunity to write about this common ailment.
First of all, it is important to note that tinnitus is a symptom and not a disease.
There are numerous causes for this problem which I will explain later. Tinnitus are sounds a person hears without the sounds really existing. The sounds can be like whistling, chirping, hissing, buzzing, beating, ringing, roaring, humming, or clicking for example. The intensity of sounds varies from one person to another. It can affect one or both ears, but can also feel as if it is present inside the head, in the front or back. Tinnitus can be occasional, sporadic, or nonstop. This problem results from a dysfunction of the auditory nervous system. Tinnitus is not dangerous, but when it is continuous and intense, it can become very unsettling. It is estimated that 10 to 18% of the population suffers from tinnitus.
There are two categories of tinnitus.
Objective tinnitus can be heard by a doctor or a specialist. It is caused by a problem that makes blood circulation in the head audible. It can sometimes be attributed to the incorrect movement of muscles in the ear. This type of tinnitus is rare, but the cause is identifiable and treatable. Subjective tinnitus means the sounds can only be heard by the person with this problem. This is the case with 95% of tinnitus sufferers. The causes are not well understood and more difficult to treat. Some specialists believe that tinnitus is produced by the brain in response to the damage of cells in the inner ear. Others believe that the sounds result from the dysfunction of the central auditory system. Often tinnitus affects older people and adults, most commonly men, who are exposed to excessively loud sounds over a long period of time, such as construction workers or musicians.
Tinnitus is often a symptom related to the loss of hearing. Other causes can be due to the long-term use of certain medications which damage the cells of the inner ear, such as aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. An injury to the head or neck, the obstruction of the auditory canal by the build-up of earwax, or certain diseases, such as Menières disease, sinus infections, otitis media, or a misalignment of the temporo-mandibulaire joint can also create tinnitus.
Depending on the cause, tinnitus can be accompanied by a loss of hearing, nausea, drowsiness, vertigo, pain, or the feeling that the ear is blocked. Often, people with this problem also suffer from an intolerance to loud noises or perceive normal or soft noises to be loud or painful.
In general, tinnitus is less noticeable during the day when the sounds are masked by other sounds.
However, it is often worse in the evening or night and can cause sleep problems in many people.
In general, tinnitus is very difficult to treat. It is important to first consult a doctor and an otolaryngologist to have a diagnosis of the problem. Often in Western medicine, the treatment will look at treating the underlying disease which causes this symptom if there is an identifiable disease. A doctor may also look at modifying certain medications. Tinnitus retraining therapy has been used with some success. This therapy attempts to reprogram the brain so that it selectively filters sounds. The goal is for the person to only hear useful sounds and ignore the other sounds. Cognitive-Behavioral therapy is another option.
With acupuncture, tinnitus can be one of the most difficult problems of the ear to treat.
The prognosis can be divided into two main categories. Mostly treatment-resistant and relatively well responding to acupuncture treatment. The first group includes patients that present with damage to the microscopic endings of the auditory nerve and/or damage to the inner ear either due to tumor, acoustic trauma, post surgery, and auditory nerve lesions. The second group includes cases relating to stress, fatigue, and medication-induced tinnitus. It can also help if the tinnitus is due to local problems, such as blockage of earwax, eustachian tube abnormalities, severe ear infections, allergies, and cervical injury. Finally, it can help with tinnitus due to central problems, such as high or low blood pressure, Lyme disease, diabetes, anemia, and thyroid problems.