If you experience an incessant ringing, clicking, rushing, whirring or roaring in your ears, you may have a condition called tinnitus, the sensation of a sound coming from within your ears. A common problem affecting 15 to 20 percent of the population, tinnitus isn't a disease, but a symptom of an underlying condition.
You may hear the sound in one ear or both. It may be persistent or sporadic. It may be loud enough to distract you or prevent you from hearing conversation. Some people get used to it; for others, it affects their daily life. There may at least be some comfort in knowing that tinnitus is rarely a serious health threat.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the type of sound that you hear may give your doctor a clue about its cause. Exposure to loud noises and subsequent hearing loss is a common cause of tinnitus, including exposure to loud equipment like chainsaws, machinery, power tools, concerts, and listening to loud music on personal devices and speakers.
First, your doctor will perform a physical examination of your ears, head and neck. He'll ask you to move your eyes, limbs or neck and ask you to clench your jaw. If your tinnitus changes in response to any of these manoeuvres, it might yield a clue. Your next port of call will be a hearing test followed by an MRI or CT scan.
Tinnitus is not yet curable. Perhaps this is because its potential origins are so variable. It can, however, be managed. The first line of defense against tinnitus involves counseling or “TRT” (tinnitus retraining therapy). TRT is a three-step process beginning with a detailed patient history, followed by the wearing of a noise-generating device or use of an app. Psychological therapy is used to train the patient to ignore the noise. In extreme cases, a brain surgeon may implant a device under the skin. This device, called a deep brain stimulator, has electrodes that deliver a tiny pulse to regions of the brain associated with sound perception.