The word ‘tinnitus’ comes from the Latin word tinnire meaning ‘to ring’ – a reference to the high-pitched ringing sound that tinnitus commonly manifests itself as.
It is not a disease, rather a condition caused by a broad range of possible underlying causes. Although it is often described as a “ringing in the ears”, it is not always characterised by a ringing noise – in fact the sound can vary hugely from sufferer to sufferer.
How do You Get Tinnitus?
It is commonly believed that tinnitus is a condition that only affects the elderly or the hard of hearing, however this is a popular misconception. In fact, anyone can get tinnitus, from the very young to the very old, and regardless of gender, race or age. However, the prevalence of tinnitus does tend to increase with age, and it’s been estimated that around 60-70% of sufferers are middle aged. Research also suggests that Caucasians are more prone to developing tinnitus than other ethnic groups, and additionally it appears that men are more likely to suffer from the condition than women. About one in ten children in the UK suffer from tinnitus, although the exact number of young sufferers is difficult to find out.
How The Ear Works:
The exact causes are not known and it is likely that there are several mechanisms.
Although noise-induced hearing loss is probably the most common cause of tinnitus, the condition can also be attributed to a huge number of neurological, medicinal, emotional or physical factors. Tinnitus may start suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, or it may be characterised by a slow and gradual onset.
It may arise as a result of problems, disorders or changes in the inner ear, middle ear, outer ear or the brain. It is not usually a sign of any serious health problem, although when it is persistent or invasive it can cause feelings of anxiety, depression and stress for sufferers. It is worthwhile asking your GP to rule out some of the rarer causes.
It can also interfere with sleep, as well as affect the sufferer’s concentration. Despite being a relatively harmless symptom, it is capable of causing very real emotional and mental anguish to people.
Drugs That Cause Tinnitus
Tinnitus research studies have shown that certain medicines have also been implicated in tinnitus onset. E.g. aspirin, ibuprofen and others. For example a sufficiently large dose of aspirin will always induce tinnitus.
People most at risk from tinnitus are those exposed to loud sounds. Brass players and those in the military (if exposed to gunshot noise and explosions) are good examples.
Can Tinnitus be Prevented?
Noise induced hearing loss is the single biggest suspected cause of tinnitus. Exposure to loud sounds also causes permanent hearing damage. Natural tinnitus treatments are available but there is currently no medical cure for tinnitus so the best action you can take is preventative, avoid exposure to excessively loud sounds at home, in your workplace or at concerts and live music events.
A simple rule of thumb is to avoid sounds that are:
- Too close
- Too loud
- Go on too long
If you feel you may be exposed to loud sounds, always carry a pair of foam earplugs and don’t be shy about using them. If you have ‘ringing in your ears’ after exposure to sound (e.g. after a disco or hearing a band) then this is a sign of hearing damage. A quick ‘stop gap’ protective measure is to moisten some tissue paper and use that as an ear plug. It doesn’t take much to reduce excessive sound levels to acceptable ones and protecting yourself from tinnitus need not interfere with your enjoyment.