What Is Tinnitus?
Ringing in the ear or Tinnitus is the term used to describe the perception of sound, which is not present externally. It is commonly heard, as ringing, hissing, buzzing or clicking and can be a single sound or a number of different sounds heard in the ear.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom caused by a fault in our hearing system, which can occur anywhere from our ear to the brain. Usually but not always tinnitus is a symptom of hearing loss. With hearing loss there is typically damage to the sensory cells of the ear, called hair cells, causing a loss of input to the auditory regions of the brain. These areas require constant stimulation, so when their input is reduced, the auditory nervous system compensates by turning up its sensitivity to try to pick up what it is missing. This results in amplification of the background electrical activity of our hearing nerves or “brain hum” which is then perceived. Tinnitus is the side effect of these neural changes. When something disrupts the hearing pathway as in a loss of hearing, we can become aware of our background electrical activity, resulting in the perception of tinnitus.
Some common tinnitus triggers are:
• Exposure to loud noise
• Physical injury or head trauma
• Ear or neural disease
• Extreme stress
• Circulatory changes
• Muscle spasms
• Some prescription and non-prescription drugs.
Tinnitus is common, affecting 4 to 25% of the population. If the tinnitus or ringing in the ear is negatively perceived, it can become highly disturbing, causing significant distress for 1-2% of sufferers, affecting the quality of life and sleep.