By Kim Hyun-bin – The Korea Times
Most people may have experienced tinnitus, or the sensation of noise or ringing in the ears without an external source at least once in their lives, at least once in their life. For most, it’s just a ringing sound, while for others it could come in the form of whistling, buzzing, chirping, hissing, humming, roaring or even shrieking.
The course of chronic tinnitus is unpredictable. Sometimes the symptoms remain the same, but in other cases they can get worse. In about 10 percent of sufferers, the condition interferes with everyday life so much that they need to seek professional help.
Over 90% experience tinnitus
The sound may seem to come from inside the head from one ear or both, or could feel like it’s from a distance.
According to the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service report, there has been a gradual increase in tinnitus patients in Korea from 281,351 in 2013 to 310,895 in 2016.
Tinnitus may be constant or intermittent, steady or pulsating, though sometimes it serves as a warning of another disease.
People may show signs after being exposed to extremely loud noises, such as at concerts, that can trigger short-lived tinnitus, as well as after taking some medications in high doses ― the symptoms often go away when the person stops taking the drug.
However, when the ringing lasts more than six months it’s medically defined as chronic tinnitus, which is especially common among people over 55 and is strongly associated with hearing loss.
There are no exact causes to explain the symptoms, however, there are several factors that are believed to cause tinnitus including loud noises, stress, exhaustion, vascular irregularities and medication.
Diseases correlated to tinnitus
The exact cause of sudden deafness has not been discovered, however, experts believe a viral infection, stress, tiredness and vascular disorders could be part of the cause.
There are local studies that show 90 percent of patients who have experienced sudden deafness have been diagnosed with tinnitus. When a person experiences sudden deafness they need to get treatment immediately to prevent damage to their hearing. When a person experiences tinnitus or “stuffy” ears for several days they should visit a hospital.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD)
TMD can cause pain in jaw joints and in the muscles that control its movement.
Some people who have jaw pain also tend to clench or grind their teeth, although many people habitually do this and never develop TMD disorders.
In 2015, Seoul National University Dental Hospital conducted a survey of 1,052 TMD patients and found 30 percent suffered from tinnitus. Doctors believe an infection from a joint disorder could have an effect on the auditory nerves.
It is rare but there is the possibility of a brain tumor causing the ringing sound. When there is a brain tumor close to the nerves it damages hearing and cause dizziness. Half of brain tumor patients claim they suffer from dizziness and tinnitus.
Many patients mistake the decline in hearing as part of the ageing process and leave it unattended. However, when a brain tumor becomes severe it could cause pain around the face, make it difficult to swallow food and cause motor paralysis. So if people suffer dizziness and tinnitus they should get professional help.
No perfect cure, but treatments to help tinnitus
There is no perfect cure for tinnitus, but there are several treatments that can ease the symptoms. The most common is drug therapy. There is no scientifically proven medication for the disorder but it could help treat symptoms that induce tinnitus. When a patient is suffering from another disease, doctors advise they treat this first.
“Tinnitus or the ringing sound could be a problem with the ear itself, but for a more precise treatment we need to treat other factors first that could be causing the symptoms,” said Ryu Do-gyun, director at the Shinbi Oriental Medical Clinic.
Medications such as tranquilizers, anti-depressants and sedatives are commonly used to ease tinnitus, however, one needs to consult with a doctor before taking the drug. Use of a hearing aid could also help, as it increases the hearing of external sounds that reduce the ringing in the head.