If you think you’ve been hearing sounds, it could indicate an underlying health problem. Don’t turn a deaf ear to it
You’re dealing with the worst case of common cold ever. Your nose is blocked, your throat itchy, your sinus is hurting and it just couldn’t get any worse, till you have this stuffy, swishy sensation in your ear. There’s a constant buzzing, ringing or whooshing sensation that is bothering you and worse still, nobody else can hear those annoying sounds and it’s just getting to you. Before you conclude that you’re going nuts, imagining those sounds, you should know that it’s probably a case of tinnitus.
“Tinnitus is the sound perceived by a person due to a problem in the outer, middle or inner ear. The problem can occur due to a variety of reasons and the individual experiences a sort of swishing sound or a ringing in his ear, that nobody else can ear. The feeling is uncomfortable,” explains Dr Jaswinder Singh, senior consultant ENT specialist at Apollo Hospital, Jubilee Hills. The condition is common and he sees an average of two or three such cases each day in his OPD.
This perceived sound can occur in any of the sections – outer ear, middle ear, inner ear or the brain. Some of the most common include a sound of crickets or roaring, buzzing, hissing, whistling, and high-pitched ringing. Other types of tinnitus include a clicking or pulsatile tinnitus (the noise accompanies your heartbeat).
“Tinnitus can occur due to various reasons like build up of ear wax, a common cold, when water accidentally enters the ear. In certain cases there could be an associated hearing loss as well,” says Dr Singh. Certain underlying health conditions like a problem with the auditory nerve (the nerve that connects the ear and the brain), nasal allergies, ear infections and neurological damage could also result in tinnitus.
Although not a serious problem, tinnitus can be extremely disturbing for the individual experiencing it. However, in some people, surgical or medical treatment may be required to get rid of the problem.
“Doctors will first try and identify what the underlying cause is and then decide upon the treatment course. For instance, if the tinnitus is due to a build up of wax in the ear, then we prescribe ear drops for the same,” explains Dr Singh.
It may however be kept in mind that tinnitus and hearing loss can be permanent at times. For instance, over exposure to loud sounds, such as at a music concert, workplace or using headphones for prolonged periods of time, can have a lasting impact on the ears.
Prolonged exposure to sound over 70dB can affect a person’s ability to hear accurately. So plugging in those headphones all the time might not be such a great idea.
“The prognosis for people with tinnitus due to a problem with the middle or outer ear is good, however, inner ear problems are not so easy to deal with. However, prior care can prevent such problems,” explains Dr Singh.