Do you happen to hear noises that don’t exist? Whistles, sounds, hums, hisses or beats in the ear, felt for no obvious reason. One in two people suffer from ear noise at least once in their lifetime. In one in five people, tinnitus is chronic. The problem: the noises seem really real to the subject, but tinnitus is a ghost that is difficult to catch. But what is essentially a tinnitus? Does it disappear on its own? Can it be treated or must we learn to live with it? Here we provide you with the answers and some useful tips.
What is a tinnitus and how do you recognize it?
Each patient hears these sounds at different pitch, volume and level. Sometimes the perception of this sound occurs in only one ear, sometimes it is central, in the center of the head. It can occur in transient phases, with wave frequencies or be constant – and never disappear. Often tinnitus is accompanied by hearing problems .
Is Tinnitus Harmful?
The backstory: if the noise in the ear is perceived by the person as oppressive or important, in the limbic system (responsible for processing emotions in the brain) mechanisms are activated that intensify emotional perception, thus producing a vicious circle.
But not all subjects suffer from the noises they hear in the ear. For this reason, a distinction is made between compensated tinnitus and decompensated tinnitus :
- Acute tinnitus: persists for less than three months and disappears spontaneously. In these cases, the administration of drugs can help.
- Sub-acute tinnitus: reappears within three to twelve months. Pharmacological care and / or relaxation exercises can bring improvements.
- Chronic tinnitus: problems persist for more than twelve months and only rarely disappear without therapeutic or pharmacological interventions.
How does tinnitus originate?
However, one thing is clear: only in rare cases the annoying noises in the ear are completely unmotivated. The most frequent causes of tinnitus are lesions, pathologies and anatomical changes.
The most important causes of tinnitus are identified as follows:
Acoustic trauma from detonation, sudden hearing loss or hearing loss due to aging can be the cause of tinnitus in the inner ear. Scientists assume that after damage to the hair cells in the cochlea, certain tones are transmitted very weakly to the brain, or there may no longer be any transmission. The hearing center in the brain tries to compensate for the missing frequencies by “increasing the volume” – even if that tone isn’t really heard. For this reason the sound of tinnitus often and ironically corresponds to those frequencies that the subject hears badly or even no longer hears.
A subjective tinnitus cannot be measured from the outside. So, more often than not, even a doctor has difficulty establishing what are the triggers and identifying a cure. The cause can lie in different parts of the ear, but also in the nerves or even in the brain. It can also occur if the ear canal is blocked.
- In the inner ear tinnitus can be generated by an acoustic trauma from detonation, by a sudden loss of hearing or by hearing loss due to aging . Scientists assume that after damage to the inner ear, certain tones are no longer transmitted to the brain. The brain tries to compensate for the absence of these tones, producing them itself. In this case, a tone for which hearing loss has developed has often been heard in the ear.
- In the middle ear, the trigger may be a defect of the tympanic membrane . Inflammation may also be involved.
- In some patients, tinnitus can also be traced back to brain dysfunction . In this case, tinnitus does not disappear even if the acoustic nerve is severed. The possible causes of this dysfunction can be inflammation of the meninges or a tumor in the hearing center of the brain. Sometimes a tinnitus has psychological causes.
In some patients tinnitus can be traced back to brain dysfunction . In these cases, tinnitus does not disappear even if the acoustic nerve is severed. It is rare for concrete causes of this dysfunction to exist, sometimes it could be inflammation of the meninges or brain tumor.
There are, however, albeit rare cases of so-called objective tinnitus, in which the noises in the ear can be measured with special devices. In these cases, the culprits of noise in the ear may be anatomical changes in the blood vessels of the inner ear, or disorders of the middle ear.
An objective tinnitus is more often than not a side effect of another disease, for example Menière’s disease (inner ear disease that causes dizziness, nausea and hearing loss). A tinnitus of this type can be treated pharmacologic-ally or with surgery.
Characteristics of an objective tinnitus:
- if the noise in the ear is in sync with the pulse, it means that there is a narrowing of the vessels in the inner ear. In the best case, it is only dirt present in the ear canal near the tympanic membrane.
- They can cause a ticking noise in the ear.
- If tinnitus resonates with the rhythm of breathing, the cause may be a defective closure of the auditory tubes (Eustachian tubes ). These ducts, about 4 cm long, connect the middle ear to the pharynx.
- Crunching and grinding noises in the ear can occur concomitantly with diseases and wear of the temporomandibular joint.
What should I do if I am affected by tinnitus?
Important: if the noise persists for more than 24 hours, consult an expert. The earlier one activates in the case of acute tinnitus, the better the chances of recovery. And much earlier, chronic tinnitus can be avoided.