From time to time, we all get strange noises in one or both of our ears. We hear a ringing, buzzing, whistling, rumbling or hissing, but it’s created inside the head not in the world outside. Usually, the noise disappears are rapidly as it arrived. Doctors trace these brief episodes to many sources: a build-up of earwax, drugs such as aspirin and quinine, sudden loud noise. As soon as the effects of these wear off, normal hearing is restored.
Many people never get rid of this disorder, known as tinnitus. It may be so severe that it completely upsets their lives. For some reason, the acoustic nerve sends continuous impulses to the brain that aren’t produced by normal sound vibrations. Often no cause is found, but we know that it may stem from a fault somewhere in the ear, in the acoustic nerve itself or in the brain.
A frequent cause is exposure to constant noise, generally at work. Tinnitus may come also from otosclerosis, bone deterioration in the middle ear, from anaemia, diabetes, some allergies and high blood pressure. In rare causes a tumour pressing on a blood vessel in the head is to blame. Often the disorder is a sign of approaching deafness.
If the cause can be found, treatment is often successful. Some people learn to live with tinnitus by using radio headphones, a cassette player or similar device to block out the annoyance.
Anybody suffering mild tinnitus – ear noises that persist for more than a day or two – should see an ear specialist. The disorder could be a symptom of a serious problem in the ears or elsewhere in the body.