Tinnitus is a ringing, buzzing, whistling, roaring, hissing or other noises heard in the ear in the absence of environmental noises. The noise in the ear may sometimes change in nature or intensity. In most cases, it is present continuously but the sufferer’s awareness of it is usually intermittent.

Tinnitus is a very common symptom, which most people experience from time to time. Most normal people perceive some tinnitus if placed in a completely silent environment. Majority of the people manage to suppress the tinnitus from conscious awareness. This is called compensated tinnitus. A few are unable to suppress their tinnitus and find that it interferes with every second and activity of their life. This is called uncompensated tinnitus.

Tinnitus may occur for no apparent reason, but it is often associated with certain disease of the ear. Some of the diseases that cause tinnitus are:

• Conditions of external ear-like foreign bodies, wax in the auditory canal (passageway that leads from outside of the head to the ear drum membrane) or otitis externa (condition that causes inflammation of the external ear canal.

• Conditions of the middle ear like otitis media (inflammatory disease of the middle ear), otosclerosis (abnormal growth of the bone in the middle ear often leading to hearing loss).

• Conditions of the inner ear like presbycusis (gradual loss of hearing that develop as natural part of aging).

Tinnitus can also be caused by noise-induced hearing loss (hearing loss caused by prolonged or repeated exposure to excessive noise or by brief exposure to intensely loud noise), labyrinthitis (inflammation of the labyrinth of the inner ear, which contain the organ of balance and the receptor for hearing) and Meniere’s disease (a disorder of the inner ear causing sudden episode of severe dizziness, nausea and hearing loss). In some cases, tinnitus can be the result of anaemia (a deficiency of blood pigment-haemoglobin that carries oxygen) or due to hyperthyroidism (an over active thyroid gland).

Other causes of tinnitus include head injury and treatment with various drugs such as aspirin, quinine and certain antibiotics.

Tinnitus that affects one ear only may be a symptom of a tumour affecting the vestibulo- cochlear nerve, which carries information from the inner ear to the brain. Pulsatile tinnitus (hearing a sound in your ears that seems to match your heart beat or pulse) usually suggest a vascular (blood vessel) abnormality, although it is also a feature of benign intracranial hypertension.

All patients with tinnitus should undergo a general and ear examination by an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) specialist. The doctor will examine your ear and may arrange for hearing tests. He or she may also arrange for other tests to look for an underlying disorder.

If there is an obvious cause in the external or middle ear (foreign bodies, wax impaction, otitis externa or otitis media) treatment of this cause may irradicate or reduce the intensity of the tinnitus.

In the majority of patients the precise causes of their tinnitus is not immediately obvious. The cause is then usually attributed to minor degrees of age-related hearing loss. Regular drug treatment may give relief especially in some cases of Meniere’s disease.

Severely affected patients may benefit by wearing a ‘’masker’’, an instrument that looks like a hearing aid but produces a low background noise to block out the ringing. The device is worn in or behind in the ear like a hearing aid. Many sufferers make use of a radio, television, tape player, or head phone to block out the noise in their ears.

In those patients in whom the tinnitus is an accompanying feature of significant hearing loss, a "hearing aid" may provide relief by increasing your awareness of background noise, while masking the internal sounds.

It must be remembered that tinnitus is an extremely disturbing symptom for the patient. Many become convinced that they have brain tumour, or even something worse. An explanation of their symptoms together with reassurance, allows many to live happily with their tinnitus.

Dr Asok Cheriyan is a specialist diabetologist at Al Waha Clinic Diabetes Centre, Dubai. Got a problem? Our fantastic panel of renowned experts is available to answer all your questions related to fashion, well-being, nutrition, finance and hypnotherapy. Email your queries to friday@gulfnews.com.

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