Did you ever experience a ringing, hissing or crackling sound in the ears? If you did, you might have experienced a condition medically known as Tinnitus. It can often be a minor, temporary inconvenience but in some cases, it can be a more chronic and persistent problem which requires the help of a medical professional, more specifically an ENT specialist like Dr Rao’s ENT.
Did you know? Tinnitus refers to any abnormal sound in the ear such as ringing, clicking, whistling, hissing, crackling and popping. These sounds may be caused while talking, yawning, gulping food, or any movement of the jaws.
Who is affected by Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a very common complaint and approximately 7% of the population has experienced it at some stage of their life. Individuals from all age groups – children, teens, adults to senior citizens suffer from this condition but due to different causes. Individuals who are 50 years and above have higher occurrences of Tinnitus.
What are the symptoms of Tinnitus?
Most patients associate Tinnitus with not just physical inconvenience but also mental distress caused by constant ringing sensation in the ears. Tinnitus is known to cause anxiety, lack of sleep(insomnia), poor performance at work and school, irritability and at times even depression. This goes to show Tinnitus is not a condition to ignore.
Causes of Tinnitus
Now that we understand what is Tinnitus and why it is a condition to worry, let’s look at what are the most common causes of Tinnitus.
Did you know? Most people learn to live with Tinnitus but help is always available from ENT specialists for those who find it unbearable.
- Damage or loss of sensory hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear
The structures inside the ear responsible for hearing are very complex and sensitive. The damage and loss of tiny sensory hair cells in the cochlea which resides in the inner human ear, is one of the most common causes of Tinnitus. This damage tends to happen with age but at times is caused by exposure to loud noises as well. Hence youngsters exposing themselves to loud music and constant usage of headphones should be wary of this potential damage which may result in hearing loss.
- Ear wax
Another common reason for Tinnitus is war wax, the same wax which many of us ignorantly clean with cotton swabs. Eardrum is the key component of the ear responsible for conducting the sound entering the ear and any dry residue of ear wax can result in the improper transmission of sound to the eardrum resulting in crackling sound.
- Ear infections
Ear infections can affect the functioning of the ear by infecting the ear and its internal components. This may lead to the individual hearing abnormal sounds in the ear. Hence it is advised to maintain ear hygiene and consult an ENT specialist in case of any discharge or infection in the ear.
- Eustachian tube dysfunction
Eustachian tube is a 3-4 cm long tube-like structure in the middle ear responsible for air circulation and maintaining the balance of internal and external air pressure in the ear. When the eustachian tube is infected, it results in fluid build-up in the middle ear leading to tinnitus.
- TMJ Disorders
Temporomandibular joint syndrome is a pain in the jaw joint caused due to a variety of reasons such as jaw injury, poor posture, arthritis, and other inflammatory disorders. TMJ disorders cause unbearable pain and tenderness in the jaw while eating, speaking or any activity involving jaw movement. TMJ disorders are known to cause tinnitus.
- Foreign object in the ear
The presence of foreign objects in the ear is another common cause of crackling or popping sound in the ears. Any foreign object such as an insect that got accidentally trapped in the ear can rub against the eardrum causing tinnitus.
- Noise trauma
Children and teenagers are often exposed to noise trauma caused by exposure to high levels of noise. This is often due to the usage of high volume in earphones, exposure to loud music or accidental exposure to noise. Some professions also expose individuals to occupational noise trauma in which cases patients should take precautionary measures to protect their ears. Whatever the reason for exposure, noise trauma can cause tinnitus.
- Stiffening of the middle ear bones
Otosclerosis or stiffening of the bones in the middle ear can impact your hearing and cause tinnitus.
- Head and neck injuries
In some cases, head and neck injuries are also known to cause tinnitus. The ear comprises of a very delicate and intricate combination of bones that enable us to hear. Any physical force applied to the ear indirectly because of head and neck injuries has the potential to disrupt this mechanism leading to tinnitus.
- Certain medications – ototoxic drugs
A good number of medications are known to cause or aggravate tinnitus. Often common medications such as aspirin, antibiotics and not so common drugs used for treating cancers, anti-depressants could cause tinnitus. Most of these drugs are ototoxic, i.e., can damage the auditory nerve. When these medicines are administered incorrectly or in high dosage they can cause tinnitus.
Treatment for Tinnitus
As described above, tinnitus can be caused by a wide range of issues and an ENT specialist would first diagnose the underlying problem and treat the same. For example, if tinnitus is caused by an ear infection, the doctor would treat the underlying ear infection and the problem would be addressed by the end of the treatment. Similarly, if it is caused due to eustachian tube dysfunction, your ENT surgeon would perform an eustachian tube balloon dilation procedure to clear out the fluid built-up in the middle ear. Once the root cause is address, tinnitus would subside.
In many cases, patients often cope with tinnitus considering it as a minor inconvenience and also get used to other resulting issues such as insomnia, anxiety, depression, etc. From the causes we listed out above, it is evident that tinnitus is often an indication of a more serious underlying problem.
Some of these problems can lead to permanent hearing loss or deafness. You may experience tinnitus after a flight or during adventure sports such as scuba diving due to a sudden change in pressure. Such instances may lead to temporary, short-lived tinnitus. But if you are experiencing repeated and severe episodes of tinnitus, visit an experienced ENT hospital like Dr Rao’s ENT Super Speciality Hospital which is equipped with state-of-the-art ENT facilities and a panel of highly experienced ENT specialists who can provide an accurate diagnosis and administer the right treatment.