Our hearing plays an important role in how we perform our daily activities. If someone has problems with their hearing, it is important to understand the cause of their hearing impairment. A common problem with people is a ringing or whistling in the ear. This is called tinnitus, which now affects one in ten people in Germany.
What exactly is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is an awareness of noise in the ears or head that does not come from an external source. People with this condition can hear a ringing, buzzing or whistling sound. This condition can also be temporary. The volume, pitch or quality of tinnitus sounds may also vary. Some patients report that their tinnitus is most obvious when the outside sounds are soft (during the night). Others describe their tinnitus even in the presence of external sounds, which is worsened by noise. Tinnitus can affect one ear or both ears. It can also be perceived differently, as if it is in the head and not in the ears at all.
In its mildest form, tinnitus is extremely common and many people occasionally feel sounds in their ears, for example after being in a noisy place like a concert. But more and more people are confronted with a chronic form.
Tinnitus can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- hearing loss
- hearing trauma
- recurrent infections
- head trauma
- dental problems
While there are several causes for tinnitus, we distinguish two main types of the disease:
Subjective tinnitus is generally caused by auditory and neurological reactions due to hearing loss or damage. However, it can also be caused by other factors. Subjective patients are the only ones who can hear the ringing or whistling. With the help of a brain scan it is made clear that the brain reacts to the sounds. Many affected people find that this severely impairs their quality of life.
This type of tinnitus is extremely rare. However, the sounds may be audible to others. Objective tinnitus can be caused by a variety of physical effects such as
- increased blood flow to the ear
- vibrations in the ear
- strained muscles in the ear
- cramps of the tiny muscles in the middle ear
- anomalies in the blood vessels
Overall, the main difference between subjective and objective types of tinnitus is how the sounds are heard. Subjective sounds are only heard by the patient because the cause is internal, whereas objective sounds can be heard by others if the cause of the sound is external.
If you suspect that you suffer from this disease, it is important to consult an ENT specialist. An audiologist can diagnose your condition and find the cause. Only then can appropriate treatment options be discussed.