Tinnitus is the medical term for ringing in the ears. A patient with tinnitus hears sounds that his environment does not hear. It is one of the most common ear complaints in adults.
These sounds come from within – from one or both ears, or the head – and can take different forms: rustling, whistling, ringing or whistling. The sound can be loud or soft, and sharp or dull in tone. Ringing in the ears can lead to loss of concentration, increased irritability, depression and reduced quality of life. You also sometimes seem to hear less well.
The cause of tinnitus is often unclear.
- The brain cells involved in hearing may be overactive.
- Hearing cells (nerve cells) in the inner ear may be damaged. The cells then automatically send sound stimuli to the brain, so that you hear a sound that is not there in reality. Damage to the hearing cells occurs due to a long-term ear infection, inflammation of the hearing cells, noise (e.g. explosion, discotheque), an accident...
- The ossicles (otosclerosis) may be damaged.
- A narrowed blood vessel can cause the sound. You can then hear the blood flow to the beat of the heartbeat whizzing through your head or along an ear.
- Certain medications (such as acetylsalicylic acid) can cause temporary ringing in the ears as a side effect.
- Sometimes a cold or ear infection is the basis of temporary ringing in the ears.
- A blocked ear can sometimes cause temporary ringing in the ears.
- Stress can also play a role in ringing in the ears.
Only tinnitus accompanied by severe hearing loss or sudden deafness requires medical attention. In that case, your doctor will refer you to an ENT doctor. The chance of hearing recovery is greatest if you receive treatment within five to seven days.
Tinnitus can usually not be cured, but you can learn to deal with the condition better:
- Sound therapy can help to mask the ringing in the ears, allowing some people to tolerate it better.
- If you suffer from muscle tension in the jaw region, physiotherapy may be indicated.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy is also recommended. A psychologist can help you relax and accept the symptoms.
- Some people suffer less from tinnitus if they are concentrated on an activity, if they exercise intensively or if they relax (through yoga, for example).
- If tinnitus is a side effect of medication use, you can talk to your doctor to adjust your dosage.
- Sometimes ringing in the ears is a symptom of a cold. In that case, nasal drops are an effective remedy.