Tinnitus is commonly described as a ringing in the ears that only the affected person can hear.
In other words, it is the perception of sound when there is no actual external noise. The perceived sound, apart from ringing, can include clicking, whistling, hissing and buzzing.
Tinnitus commonly affects people over 65. It can be a temporary (acute) or chronic (ongoing) problem, and in the UK, persistent tinnitus affects an estimated 10% of the population.
Causes of tinnitus
According to the American Tinnitus Association there are around 200 different health disorders that can cause tinnitus.
Prior damage to the auditory system like age-related or noise-induced hearing loss may be a cause of tinnitus.
It is still uncertain in what way hearing loss is associated with tinnitus, but it may be the way the brain fills in the missing sound frequencies it is no longer receiving from the auditory system.
Read: Symptoms of hearing loss
Blockages in the ear canal can affect the ear drum and when anything touches the ear drum it can cause tinnitus.
Things like dirt or foreign objects, head congestion, or excessive ear wax can obstruct the ear canal. The removal of the foreign object will in most cases clear up the tinnitus symptoms.
Other possible causes of tinnitus include:
- Head and neck trauma
- Sinus pressure
- Brian injury
- Prescription medication
- Thyroid problems
- Blood vessel disorders
- Psychiatric disorders
The role of glutamate
According to Nutrition Review, loud noise or infections causes the hair cells in the ears to secrete excessive amounts of a neurotransmitter called glutamate.
This is called a “glutamate storm” and the resultant over-stimulation of the nerve cells in the inner ear can cause them to die.
Read: Inner-ear disorders may cause hyperactivity
The nerve cells transmit impulses to the auditory cortex in the brain, and when they die the auditory cortex keeps on relaying sound to the brain, resulting in tinnitus, even when there’s no signal from the ear.
It has been demonstrated that too much of the amino acid glutamate may lead to tinnitus, and that glutamate antagonists can protect the inner ear. Magnesium protects the nerves in the inner ear and is a strong inhibitor of glutamate.
Tinnitus is caused by the “unregulated production of glutamate at sound frequencies for which there is no external stimulation”.
Read: Which foods have magnesium?
It was found that after exposure to very high noise volume there is a significant drop in the level of magnesium in the inner ear fluid. A study showed that subjects who took oral magnesium demonstrated much less noise-induced hearing loss in comparison to a control group.
In addition, a 2002 animal trial showed that "in the guinea pig preventive dietary magnesium supplement can protect the inner ear against noise-induced impairment of blood flow and oxygenation, which may partly be responsible for noise-induced hearing loss".
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Nutrition review:Silencing Tinnitus – New Research Seeks to Reduce Ringing in Ears. http://nutritionreview.org/2014/07/silencing-tinnitus-new-research-seeks-to-reduce-ringing-in-ears/
Center for Hearing Loss Help: Tinnitus and Magnesium Deficiency. http://hearinglosshelp.com/blog/tinnitus-and-magnesium-deficiency/
Arches Natural Products:Magnesium, Your Health & Tinnitus. https://www.tinnitusformula.com/library/magnesium-your-health-tinnitus/#.VLkCpy4enLU
NHS CHoices: Tinnitus. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tinnitus/Pages/Introduction.aspx
American Tinnitus Association: Causes. https://www.ata.org/understanding-facts/causes
Pubmed: Preventive magnesium supplement protects the inner ear against noise-induced impairment of blood flow and oxygenation in the guinea pig (2001). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12030419