Tinnitus is the medical term used to describe ringing or buzzing in the ears. These noises originate in the head rather than outside the body. People with tinnitus complain of hissing, deep humming, rustling, crackling or pulsing noises, which are all either intermittent or constant. The volume of these sounds varies and can occur in one ear (left or right) or both. For those affected, the sounds can be quite unpleasant.
About 40% of the population will experience some of these unpleasant sounds at some point in their lifetime, and 10% to 20% will experience chronic tinnitus (a duration of over three months). People over the age of 40 are more likely to develop symptoms of tinnitus. However, tinnitus can also affect people of any age.
Do you think you are experiencing tinnitus? Carefully read the information below so that you can identify the symptoms, causes, and available treatments for tinnitus. You can always speak to one of our hearing aid experts and get free advice over the phone, without any obligations and completely risk free.
If tinnitus is present for more than three days, one should go to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor. In diagnosing tinnitus the doctor will usually begin by asking key questions to assess the patient’s condition and discover possible causes. The doctor will then examine the ear canal and the eardrum by means of an otoscope (basically a magnifying glass, mirror and a light) to check for damage to the ear. In many cases an audiogram (hearing test) is carried out to evaluate factors relevant to tinnitus. The ENT doctor also has a series of other medical tests to provide a firm diagnosis.
- Examine the throat, nose and ears
- Subjective hearing test
- Analyse the noise in the ear; test the noise emission of the inner ear (otoacoustic emissions)
- Test for any balance disorders
- Objective hearing test (auditory brainstem response)
Different methods to diagnose tinnitus:
- Blood analysis
- MRT of the skull (magnetic resonance tomography)
- CT of the skull (computer tomography)
- Examine the neck vertebrae and the jaw
Tinnitus and hearing aids
In statistical terms more than fifty percent of tinnitus sufferers also have a loss of hearing. Using a hearing aid can significantly increase the quality of life and health for these sufferers as the hearing system compensates for the loss of hearing enabling them to hear external sounds again. Should the improvement be insufficient we recommend a combination of hearing aid and tinnitus noiser. More and more people treated for ear noise choose to use a hearing aid with an integrated tinnitus noiser, extending the technology of the hearing aid to include targeting treatment for tinnitus. Tinnitus noisers work on the principle of distraction, substituting negative noises with positive ones. They generate pleasant noises, which the user can select accordingly.
An effective reprogramming of the brain is achieved by so-called noise generators, positioned either behind both ears or worn in the ear:
Tinnitus and hearing difficulties
People with tinnitus often have hearing difficulties which reduce quality of life and health significantly. A hearing test used in a research study of ear noise therapy revealed 95% of tinnitus patients had damaged hearing. 89% of the patients had hearing impairment in both ears. Only 5% had no hearing impairment. However, one cannot conclude that hearing loss or difficulties result in tinnitus. Nonetheless, damaged hearing is considered to be a direct cause for tinnitus symptoms. Around 80% suffering hearing damage for a long period have chronic tinnitus. Hearing aids can be an appropriate means for treating hearing difficulties and at the same time prevent tinnitus.
The noise from the noiser is softer than the tinnitus noise to enable the brain to re-learn how to focus on noises in the external environment. This minimizes or completely eradicates the fixation on the ear noise. The therapy helps the brain become accustomed to sounds and after a certain time, fade them out. Leading companies in the hearing aid sector have specialized in these devices due to the high number of tinnitus sufferers. Renowned manufacturers such as Signia and Phonak offer hearing aids with integrated tinnitus noisers.
Other forms of therapy
The treatment and therapy varies according to what has actually caused the tinnitus. They can be acoustic stimulation, behavioral therapy approaches, medication, magnetic and electrical brain stimulation and physiotherapy. In acute cases Vitamin E preparations, magnesium, glucocorticoids such as cortisone, local anesthetics administered intravenously such as procaine and active ingredients to improve blood circulation (e.g. pentoxifylline). According to the cause and severity of the tinnitus the treatment and therapy can be in tablet form or intravenous drip.
Forms of tinnitus
Acute and chronic tinnitus
Acute tinnitus occurs when an unpleasant ear noise suddenly appears and remains for up to three months. In the case of chronic tinnitus the ear noises remain longer than the three month and may remain perceptible in the long term. If life quality is not impaired the sound is not compensated. If it is pathologically impaired the tinnitus is compensated for. Acute tinnitus is usually healed spontaneously or the patient recovers from the symptoms. The longer the ear noise remains, however, the higher the possibility of chronic illness.
Subjective tinnitus refers to an ear noise that can only be heard by that person. Most tinnitus cases are subjective. Subjective tinnitus is caused by a mistake in processing at the points of sound transmission and sound perception. There can be a dysfunction in the area of the middle ear right down to the cortex. For instance, ear noises occur through insufficient absorption of high sound pressure by the muscle in the middle ear. There are a number of causes of subjective tinnitus. Often ear noises become audible when a foreign substance enters or during a middle ear infection. A number of illnesses stress can trigger subjective tinnitus.Sudden deafness or hearing loss is generally accepted as a cause of tinnitus.
In summary: subjective tinnitus at a glance
- Foreign substances in the auditory canal (e.g. a build up of ear wax)
- An ear infection (otitis media or externa)
- Viral and bacterial infections (e.g. borreliosis)
- Middle ear diseases disturbing sound transmission e.g. otosclerosis
- Noise trauma (acute or chronic)
- Sudden deafness
- Diving accidents
- Autoimmune disease of the inner ear
- Ototoxic substances
- A tumor on the hearing nerves (acoustic neurinoma)
- Difficulty hearing (hypoacusis)
- Problems with the neck vertebrae or in the teeth and jaw area trigger or increase the symptoms
If an ear noise can be heard and measured by the person examining it is an objective tinnitus. By comparison with subjective tinnitus, objective tinnitus is rather rare.
In summary: objective tinnitus at a glance
- Breathing noises
- Current noises of arteries
- Tension of the middle ear muscle
- Movements in the opening of the ear trumpet or acute functional disorder of the Eustachian tube.
The causes of tinnitus are many. But there are good news as the risk of occurrence can be reduced and preventative measures to avoid this illness can be taken. Fundamentally one must avoid the danger of damaging the ear through loud noise, by having enough protection for your hearing against it. Furthermore, one should reduce stress as much as one can. To this end, optimized time management to allow for buffer periods and relaxation exercises is of great benefit. Alongside an active coping with stress, balanced and healthy nutrition has a great effect on health. This can lead to more energy and a more efficient everyday life. One should most certainly go to an ENT specialist with acute era noise for a short-term therapy – usually through the use of medicaments – to avoid long-term problems.