Tinnitus is a medical issue characterised by a sensation of ringing or noise in the ears. It is fairly a very common problem and affects about 1 among 5 people. Tinnitus or ringing in ears by itself is not a medical condition, but in most of the cases, it is a symptom associated with other medical conditions such as ear injury, circulatory issue, age-related hearing issue etc. This phenomenon is caused when the fine hair cells that line the ears are damaged. Sometimes, ringing in ears may be accompanied by hearing other noises such as whistling, roaring, or buzzing. In most of the cases, tinnitus is not a serious issue and resolves by itself. In rare cases, the condition may worsen with time and may need specific treatment. It has been seen that tinnitus can worsen with age.
How Long Does Tinnitus Last?
The duration for which an affected person may experience tinnitus depends on the cause of the condition. The condition may be sporadic or constant. Occasional exposure to extremely loud sounds can bring about temporary tinnitus. If the ringing is accompanied by a muffled sound, it may indicate symptoms of noise induced hearing deficiency. In majority of the cases, these symptoms show significant improvement within a span of 16 to 48 hours. However, in extreme cases, the affected individual may take about a week or two to show signs of improvement. Exposure to loud noises, before the condition improves, can trigger ringing and worsen the condition. Tinnitus associated with temporary hearing loss is often caused due to presence of other underlying medical issues. In such cases, it can take as long as 6 months or more for improvement in condition. It is a common issue with long term effects, and can rarely cause permanent deafness. Frequent concert-goers, musicians, and workers who are exposed to loud noises at work should take adequate measures to avoid exposure to loud noises to avoid development of long term issues.
Ways to Prevent Tinnitus
The most common cause of tinnitus is exposure to loud music/sound. The following preventive measures can help in reducing the chances of developing tinnitus:
- Understanding what noises can cause ringing in ears and taking adequate measures to avoid exposure to such sounds as much as possible. (Loud speakers, loud machineries, loud vehicles, factories, etc.
- Using ear plugs when there is a possibility of being exposed to loud sounds. Music concerts often sell cheap foam ear plugs which can be used to protect the ears from harmful effects of loud music.
- Limit alcohol consumption, as alcohol intake increases the blood flow to the ears which may increase the ringing in the ears.
- In case of hearing deficiency, it is advised to get your ears tested by a professional as soon as possible.
Treatment and Management of Tinnitus
If the ringing in ears does not improve by itself within a week, it is advised to consult an ENT specialist for further evaluation, treatment and management. It is also advised to consult a doctor at the earliest if tinnitus arise all of a sudden without any apparent cause; or if the ringing is accompanied by hearing difficulties. Diagnosis involves obtaining a detailed case history followed by physical examination of the head and neck region. Specialized tests such as hearing evaluation, audiometry tests, TMJ evaluation, imaging tests (MRI and CT scan) may be done to trace out the underlying cause of the condition. Treatment is planned based on the accrual cause of the issue.
Medications often do not help in management of this condition; however, medications such as tricyclic anti-depressants and alprazolam may be prescribed for management of the secondary symptoms. Other treatment may involve ear wax removal, treating an underlying blood vessel condition, changing current medications (which may cause tinnitus as a side effect).
Though tinnitus cannot be treated immediately, a few measures can help in alleviating the discomfort caused by it. These measures include:
Playing White Noise or Relaxing Music to Manage Tinnitus:
Playing relaxing music or white noise can help the individual stay calm and relax his or her mind. This can play a vital role in masking the ringing in the ears.
Distraction during Tinnitus:
Distracting yourself by getting involved in other activities can help in eliminating the focus on ringing in ears. Listening to other music, watching the television, playing a sport, dancing etc. can help us in overcoming tinnitus. However, it is important to keep in mind, music should not be played at high volume, as it can have a negative effect on the condition and delay healing.
Alternative Medication for Tinnitus:
Alternative medication such as acupuncture, hypnosis, additional supplements such as Ginkgo Bilbo, zinc supplements and vitamin B supplements can help in management of the condition. However, these alternatives should be used in conjunction with conventional treatment modality.
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