Balance disorders

Ringing in the ear (Tinnitus)

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus or ringing in the ears, is rustling, squeaking, or whistling noises that seem to come from within and are impossible to ignore. These noises, that only the patient can hear, are caused by the auditory organ or by the nerves transmitting signals, which the brain translates as noise.

Everyone hears this noise sometimes when they are in very quiet surroundings, but because nowhere is ever completely silent, you are not aware of it. In some people, the noise is so loud that it becomes a nuisance. Tinnitus is usually not dangerous, but if it is very severe it can cause sleep and concentration problems. That in turn can lead to problems in one’s day-to-day functioning. So mental and social problems can be a direct result of tinnitus.

What causes tinnitus?

In many instances, it is impossible to determine what exactly causes tinnitus. Scientists suspect that the cause of tinnitus is not in the auditory organ, but in the brain. Overactive parts of the brain in the auditory area continuously emit signals. They cause the ‘phantom sound’.

Tinnitus can be divided into two forms, subjective and objective tinnitus. The subjective form can only be perceived by the patient. The objective form, which is rare, can also be detected by someone else. The two forms of tinnitus have different possible causes.

Possible causes related to tinnitus:

  • Stress
  • Prolonged exposure to loud noise, such as listening to music through earphones
  • Certain medications, such as aspirin or some antibiotics
  • Various diseases, such as Ménière's disease, diabetes, MS or kidney diseases
  • Cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, low blood pressure, arteriosclerosis or narrowing of the blood vessels
  • Chronic inflammation of the middle ear
  • An epidural
  • A wad of earwax
  • Age-related hearing impairment
  • Benign tumour of the auditory nerve

Hearing loss is often accompanied by tinnitus and is more common nowadays than before; an average pop concert or headphones can damage one’s hearing in less than 30 minutes. Approximately 30% of all adults over 65 suffer from hearing loss, and a third of those cases result from noise exposure.

(Age related) hearing impairment and hyperacusis (hypersensitivity to noise) is often accompanied by tinnitus.

Symptoms related to tinnitus

The main symptom related to tinnitus is the constant rustling, squeaking or whistling sounds you hear. This annoying noise can result in the following complaints:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of despair and anger
  • Despondency
  • Easily irritated


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