If you have been noticing a whining, crackling, or screeching noise in one or both of your ears, relax. It is not aliens attempting to contact you, so put down the tinfoil hat. Tinnitus is not a disease, but a symptom of any one of a huge plethora of causes, most of which are benign and all but harmless. Medications you’re taking, excess ear wax, an ear infection, or even depression can bring on these annoying, incessant ‘auditory hallucinations’.
Some dangerous causes of tinnitus are the onset of multiple sclerosis, skull fracture, thyroid disease, or whiplash. Ménière’s disease can also be the culprit, and it can cause deafness in extreme cases. Luckily, the vast majority of these more serious diseases carry other symptoms beyond tinnitus to alert you that there is a serious problem. If you are otherwise feeling great, you are most likely just suffering from a harmless form of tinnitus.
While most cases of tinnitus are benign, they can be incredibly annoying and effect the sufferer’s career and social life- especially to nerds! The booms and crackles of gunfire in video games can set it off, as can sleep deprivation, long hours spent on the computer, and lack of exercise. Sound familiar?
New research conducted at the Pittsburgh School of medicine, headed by senior investigator Thanos Tzounopoulos, Ph.D., assistant professor of otolaryngology and neurobiology, is quite promising. Using slices of brain tissue, researchers have been able to map the auditory nerves. This, in due time, will lead to a greater understanding of how to treat or cure tinnitus.
What can you do in the meantime? Keep the noise level low on games and music, have your ears checked regularly, and always ask your pharmacist if any of your medication is known to aggravate tinnitus symptoms. If it’s keeping you awake, try a quiet white noise machine to block out the unwanted noise. Should your hearing be impaired by it, visit an audiologist to see if there is any underlying cause, such as an infection or damage to the inner ear.
While tinnitus is indeed an annoying condition, it is largely harmless. Of course, if it gets worse or is accompanied by pain, nausea, or dizziness, see your doctor immediately, as these signs point to a more serious problem.
If you have never had tinnitus, you can avoid it by keeping your ears clean, keeping volume levels low, and getting plenty of exercise. And no, playing WoW for six hours doesn’t count, even if you do work up a sweat!