Tinnitus is a very common issue – more than 50 million people experience some form of it at one time or another. It can range from a temporary annoyance to a problem that just won’t go away. Tinnitus is essentially a perception of sound where there is none and can be heard in many forms, from a low pitched hum, to a noise like chirping or the ‘ringing in the ears’ that many people describe. But what actually causes it?
- An injury to the head or neck. An injury that has affected the brain, inner ear or hearing nerve can result in Tinnitus e.g. a car crash or bomb blast.
- A cold, flu or sinusitis. All these conditions can create pressure on your nasal passages and in the inner ear, which may aggravate the nerves and result in Tinnitus.
- Noise exposure. Those people who experience Tinnitus most often tend to be those who are constantly surrounded by loud noise. That could be working on a construction site or in the music industry, for example. Prolonged exposure to loud noise like this can wear out the cells in the ear that cope with higher pitches of sound, resulting in the high pitched ringing that many people described Tinnitus to be.
- An inner ear issue. If you’re also experiencing other symptoms, such as dizziness and vertigo or feeling like your ear is constantly full of water, your Tinnitus may be caused by an inner ear disorder, such as Ménière’s disease.
- Issues with your jaw. Any damage to the muscles, ligaments, or cartilage at the point where the jaw connects to the skull can create issues such as Tinnitus. If this is the cause of your Tinnitus then you’re likely to be referred on to a dentist.
- Earwax. Sometimes the simplest cause of Tinnitus is a build up of earwax. This can put pressure on the nerves that run through the ear canal and cause ringing or mean that ears are so blocked that outside sounds only come through as a buzzing noise.
- Taking medication. There are certain drugs that can be responsible for the development of Tinnitus. This usually occurs with ototoxic medications, which have a tendency to upset the balance of the inner ear and damage the hair cells that are responsible for hearing. Some of the medications most likely to do this include cisplatin (a chemotherapy drug) and loop diuretics, which are used by people experiencing heart failure.
- Issues with blood sugar. In order to remain healthy the inner ear needs a steady supply of oxygen and glucose. If you have a condition that affects your blood sugar, such as diabetes, then your body isn’t making enough insulin to transfer glucose to the cells where it is needed and this can result in hearing issues such as Tinnitus.
- Ageing. Tinnitus is something that many people start to experience as they get older – often as early as age 40. This may simply be the result of noise exposure over time.
Tinnitus can be distressing – the first step is always to identify the cause of the issue and work back from there.
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