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Tinnitus: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About tinnitus

Tinnitus is a ringing noise that seems to originate in the ear or head that is audible to the patient alone.

Tinnitus: Incidence, age and sex

It is estimated that about 10% to 15% of the population may have experienced tinnitus. It is more common with advancing age and hearing nerve impairment. No gender predilection is observed.

Symptoms and signs of tinnitus: Diagnosis

It is not a standalone disease, but a symptom of an underlying condition. A medical history, physical examination, and certain tests may help determine precisely where the tinnitus is originating. All patients with persisting unexplained tinnitus need a hearing test (audiogram). Other tests, such as the auditory brain stem response (ABR), computerised tomography scan (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) may be needed to rule out a tumour occurring in the hearing or the balance nerve.

Causes and prevention of tinnitus

Fluid, infection, wax or disease of the middle ear bones or ear drum, Meniere's syndrome, damage to the microscopic endings of the hearing nerve in the inner ear are some of the common causes of tinnitus Exposure to loud noise is also an important cause of tinnitus, and it often damages hearing as well. Tinnitus may in very rare situations, be a symptom of such serious problems as high blood pressure, an aneurysm or a brain tumour (acoustic tumour). For prevention, avoiding loud noises or using ear muffs when noise exposure is inevitable and avoiding cleaning the ears with ear buds so that wax does not get impacted, is recommended.

Tinnitus: Complications

Tinnitus may result in fatigue, stress, sleep problems, trouble concentrating, memory problems, depression, anxiety and irritability.

Tinnitus: Treatment

If a treatable cause has been identified, treatment of the cause may cure the tinnitus. In many cases, there is no specific treatment for tinnitus. It may simply go away on its own, or the patient will have to learn to live with it. Some doctors recommend niacin but it has not consistently proved to be effective. Biofeedback may help to reduce the intensity. "White noise" using an electronic device may help suppress the sound so that it's less bothersome.