That ringing isn’t Christmas bells: Tinnitus symptoms, prevention

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Tinnitus is the medical term for “hearing” noises in your ears when there is no outside source of the sounds. The noises you hear can be soft or loud. They may sound like ringing, blowing, roaring, buzzing, hissing, humming, whistling or sizzling. They can be persistent and never-ending or intermittent.

TinnitusHearing loss is common in the trucking industry, especially for the drivers who have been on the road for more than ten years. While the newer trucks are a lot quieter — in-cab noise levels are about half what they were just fifteen years ago — protecting your hearing is one of the most effective ways to prevent tinnitus. Avoiding loud noises and wearing hearing protection when appropriate is recommended by the Mayo Clinic website.

However, with 265 known medications on the market that report tinnitus as a possible side effect, there are literally hundreds of reasons why someone may experience symptoms. Behind medication side effects, a common cause of tinnitus is inner ear cell damage. Tiny, delicate hairs in your inner ear move in relation to the pressure of sound waves. This triggers ear cells to release an electrical signal through a nerve from your ear (auditory nerve) to your brain. Your brain interprets these signals as sound. If the hairs inside your inner ear are bent or broken, they can “leak” random electrical impulses to your brain, causing tinnitus.

The three most common causes of inner ear cell damage are: age-related hearing loss, prolonged exposure to loud noises and ear wax buildup or a foreign object in the auditory canal. Other causes of tinnitus range from Meniere’s disease to a malformation of capillaries in the head and neck. Finding out why you’re having symptoms is the most important key to curing them, or making the symptoms as manageable as possible.

It’s important to know there are two types of tinnitus – subjective and objective. Subjective tinnitus can only be heard by the affected person and is caused by otology, neurology, infection, or drugs. Because of the wide range in causes, subjective tinnitus is broken up into two categories: otic subjective tinnitus, caused by disorders of the inner ear or the acoustic nerve, and somatic objective tinnitus, caused by disorders outside the ear and nerve, but still within the head or neck.

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Subjective tinnitus may not always be correlated with ear malfunction or hearing loss. Even people with near-perfect hearing may still complain of it. In many cases, the underlying cause cannot be identified.

TREATMENT | There is no specific treatment for tinnitus, but a doctor may suggest various methods for suppressing the sound. When subjective tinnitus is a medication side effect, it almost always goes away when the drug is completed or changed, however it’s important to know that some drugs are ototoxic, which means you are more susceptible to hearing damage while taking these drugs. These drugs should be marked with warning labels and this information is available from your pharmacist. 

Mind that pharmacist. If you are experiencing what you think is tinnitus, alleviating it may be as simple as changing your medications. If you have multiple prescriptions, or are being treated by more than one physician, it’s a really good idea to use one pharmacist, the same one, all the time. Medication interactions will automatically be triggered by a computer system if all your meds come from one place. Pharmacies aren’t functionally integrated in most states, so if you’re using several places, it’s a lot easier for med errors to occur.

Objective tinnitus can arise from muscle spasms that cause clicks or crackling around the middle ear, and the sound is audible to both the patient and doctor. A bruit is the unusual sound that blood makes when it rushes past an obstruction in an artery; a physician would listen for a bruit in the neck area to rule out “pulsatile tinnitus,” which is a condition where some people experience a sound that beats in time with the pulse. This is a rare form of tinnitus, occurring in less than 1 percent of cases, and indicates vascular problems within the head and neck.

If someone tells you they can hear you buzz or ring when you sleep, and you experience a whooshing or ringing sound in your ears, you should go have it checked out.

The vestibulo-cochlear nerve, or eighth cranial nerve, carries signals from the inner ear to the brain. Tinnitus can result from damage to this nerve. Compared with tinnitus from other causes, tinnitus due to head or neck trauma tends to be perceived as louder and more severe. It is accompanied by more frequent headaches, greater difficulties with concentration and memory, and a greater likelihood of depression.

As with any medical condition, if it disrupts your daily life you should see a medical professional about it. Loss of sleep, inability to concentrate and irritability are all good reasons to make a home time stop at the family doc. More than two thirds of the people who seek treatment get at least some form of relief, you don’t have to ‘just deal with it’ any more.

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