Tinnitus is a condition that afflicts millions of Americans. It is an abnormal condition affecting a person’s auditory system. Although not a disease, tinnitus is labeled a health problem by medical professionals. Approximately 20 percent of the population experiences one or more forms of tinnitus at some time or another.
Tinnitus is usually experienced as a ringing in the ears. Individuals often report crackling noises and slight pops. The causes of tinnitus are many and can be difficult to pinpoint in some cases.
Causes And Symptoms
Tinnitus is divided into two types, objective and subjective. Objective tinnitus may be caused by slight muscle spasms in the immediate vicinity of the ear. Doctors have also linked objective tinnitus to abnormal blood flow which can result in a beating sensation in the outer and middle ear.
Subjective tinnitus is usually linked to hearing loss. Continued exposure to loud noises or sounds that contain an unpleasant overlap of frequencies often results in pain or ringing in the ears. Some pain relief medication such as aspirin is known to cause subjective tinnitus.
A buildup of wax near the eardrum is also responsible for the perception of noise or ringing in some patients. The presence of lead or other contaminants in the body has been identified as another cause of subjective tinnitus.
Regardless of how it is occurring, the major symptoms of both objective and subjective tinnitus is a slight pain in the region of the eardrum, faint ringing accompanied by difficulty in hearing, and a sensation of pressure in the outer portion of the ear.
Diagnosing the Condition
Years of clinical study has resulted in findings that suggest the perception of sounds caused by the condition to be directly correlated with the patient’s ability to hear normal external sounds. Patients suffering from ringing in the ears may be asked to listen to sample sounds that have a known amplitude. The perceived volume of the tinnitus will never exceed the actual volume of the sample sounds administered by the hearing care professional.
If the external sound experienced by the patient is louder than the perceived sound caused by tinnitus, the patient will no longer be able to hear the ringing noise or pulsations. This gives doctors and health care professionals a valuable tool to help in their diagnosis of the problem and to ascertain the degree to which the patient is suffering from perceived sounds.
In the cases of subjective tinnitus, the inability to hear the perceived sounds when external noises are produced can help to measure the extent of damage to the hair cells lining the inner ear. These cells become stimulated when sound waves are amplified by the eardrum and are directly connected to nerve endings that send information along the auditory nerve to the brain.
Treatment Options For Tinnitus Patients
There is no simple cure for tinnitus. The various causes of the condition make it extremely difficult for the medical professional to choose a treatment plan that aids in reducing the severity of symptoms. Objective tinnitus is often treated by removing earwax or by the implantation of a Teflon shield around the cochlea of the inner ear.
Subjective tinnitus may be treated with the use of pharmaceutical drugs as well as a special diet plan suggested by the health professional. Ultrasonic stimulation and special hearing aids may be prescribed as the best treatment for some individuals. In rare cases, surgery to repair a section of the cochlea or to remove a blockage in the circulatory system may be chosen as the best treatment option.