The appearance of an unexplained sound or a noise ringing in your head or ear several times a day may be tinnitus. A disorder in the ear that can affect – sometimes in an important way – everyday life. We spoke to Dr. Luca Malvezzi, an Otolaryngologist at Humanitas.
Tinnitus symptoms usually include sounds like a ringing in the ears, which may take on different tones and therefore seem like a buzzing, whistling, roaring, murmuring or loud noise.
The hum can be steady or intermittent. Tinnitus mainly affects adults, and often children, and its continuous and intense presence may favor the onset of a depressive syndrome.
What causes tinnitus
Exposure to a loud noise, infection, trauma and some diseases are the most common causes of tinnitus. Intense and frequent noise can damage hearing, causing hearing loss and distortion in the perception of sounds, as well as changes that lead to hearing of nonexistent sounds. It is believed that 90% of patients with tinnitus also have hearing loss.
In case of ear infections (otitis media) or infections of the nose and paranasal sinuses (sinusitis and rhinitis), there may be a temporary perception of tinnitus in a low tone, similar to the noise of the ocean that is perceived by the placement of a shell in the ear.
Head and neck trauma can be responsible for reversible tinnitus, accompanied by headaches, dizziness and memory loss. Even the misalignment of the mandibular joints (the jaw) may have repercussions on the hearing system causing tinnitus.
Finally, tinnitus can occur in patients with thyroid disease or fibromyalgia.
Why it is important to seek medical attention
In case of tinnitus, it is always good to see a doctor. The examination of the ENT (ear, nose throat) by a doctor with audiometric tests is critical to understand if further tests are needed, such as an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, a Doppler of blood vessels or an evaluation in a Thrombosis and MRI Center.
Treating tinnitus symptoms
A specialized evaluation is an opportunity for the patient to get the best advice on how to combat tinnitus. In general, taking medications may be helpful such as antidepressants (like tricyclics), antihypertensives or even medications for ear infections can alleviate the perceived disturbance.
In the case of sensorineural hearing loss, the patient may feel relieved with the use of a hearing aid capable of amplifying the received sound and improving the hearing perception by masking the noise associated with tinnitus. You can also use generators or noise masks, which are special devices that produce the “white noise” or natural sounds such as wind or waves in order to relax the individual by diverting attention from tinnitus.