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Tinnitus is the perception of a continuous sound with no identifiable sound source in the environment.
This ringing can range from squeaks to hisses, whistles, hums or murmurs in one or both ears. The sound is especially perceived when there is no or little ambient noise. They can be all kinds of sounds: rustling, sound like the sea, whistling, rustling, musical sounds, high or low, continuous or alternating, loud or soft.
The name comes from the Latin tinnitus aurium, meaning ‘ringing of the ears’. A term used in the entertainment world is “disco-deafness. Tinnitus can also be caused by colds.
Tinnitus is another word for ‘ringing of the ears’. When you hear a sound without that sound actually being there we call it tinnitus.
Against hearing damage, which may lead to tinnitus, you can protect yourself roughly in three ways, namely (in order of effectiveness);
1. Use hearing protection (always), This is by far the most effective.
2. Stay at an appropriate distance (at least 2 meters) from the speakers.
3. Take regular “ear breaks,” or in other words; expose yourself to excessively loud noise as briefly as possible.
Several types of hearing protection are available, namely (in order of effectiveness);
1. Custom-made earplugs (Otoplastics) with a choice of different frequency filters.
2. Universal earplugs with (music) filter.
3. Universal ear plugs.
* In 40% of cases, the underlying cause for the onset of tinnitus cannot be demonstrated.
Given the variety of causes, to date there is no treatment or medication that is effective for every tinnitus patient. Learning to cope with it can make the symptoms less severe, though. Depending on the possible cause, a psychologist e/o therapist may be able to help reduce symptoms.
Symptoms include hearing sounds in one or two ears (or the head) that do not come from outside. All forms of sound are described, from a squeak, hiss or wind noise to whistling kettles, bells, humming, whistling, ringing and fighter jets.
Tinnitus is not dangerous in the majority of cases. Only in rare cases is it a symptom of a serious underlying disease or condition. Patients can suffer considerably from the permanent presence of sounds in their heads, however.
Currently, there is no effective treatment to get rid of tinnitus. “Just learn to live with it” is what people are therefore (too) often told. “We unfortunately cannot cure people for the time being,” UMC Utrecht ENT physician Diane Smit acknowledges.
Tinnitus can be seen as a symptom of mental overload and results from persistent overactivity of the brain. The cause of the overload may be in the area of hearing loss, physical condition loss or psychological overload.
Our brains, especially our auditory system, are sensitive to stress. In fact, stress causes both overactivity and an increase in sensitivity in the brain. Tinnitus occurs with acute stress and with prolonged stress. It is not only a consequence of stress, but also a cause.
If a person has been exposed to a lot of loud noises, the tinnitus may temporarily get worse. Also, if a person has been very busy, stressed or has a lot of emotions, the ringing in the ear may increase temporarily. The noise in the ear may also increase due to teeth grinding or chronic neck pain.
Research on the link between tinnitus and vitamin D deficiency shows that a large proportion of tinnitus patients also suffer from vitamin D deficiency. In addition, vitamin D deficiency also appears to be related to the negative impact tinnitus has.
The duration of temporary tinnitus varies between a few minutes and a week depending on how and where you contracted the squeak. Small differences in pressure will cause a squeak to dissipate quickly. After a long plane ride, it may take a few hours.
In general, tinnitus does not appear to get worse. The psychological state does affect the strength of the sound and the irritation (annoyance) it causes. During a quieter period, people often experience less tinnitus.
Perceiving a ringing in the ear can be either temporary or permanent. With hearing damage and/or persistent physical conditions, tinnitus may be permanent. In temporary conditions, the squeak in the ear may also disappear again.