Tinnitus and the Workings of the Ear
To understand about more what happens to the ear when the symptoms of Tinnitus are present, it is useful to understand how the ear itself is structured and how it works.
The ear works by the sounds travelling from the outer ear passing through the middle ear and on to the inner ear. The inner ear contains the cochlea and the auditory nerve. The cochlea is a spiral tube that resembles the shell of a snail and contains a large number of sensitive hair cells that transmit sounds to the brain through the auditory nerve.
If the cochlea becomes damaged in any way, through injury for example, it can no longer do this job effectively. The parts of the cochlea that are still working will continue to send messages to the brain, and the brain will try to compensate for the faulty missing parts by over playing the working parts. This has the effect of creating the internal sound known as Tinnitus.
One of the key factors associated with developing Tinnitus symptoms is exposure to loud noise, particularly over long periods of time. Regularly going to nightclubs, working in noisy environments and even members of the armed forces experiencing loud gun fire have all been linked to causing Tinnitus. The ear can hear a large range of noises from 30 decibels (a low background noise or whisper), to over 100 decibels in a noisy club or bar. Exposure to loud noise can cause the symptoms of Tinnitus to come on very suddenly in some cases.
The modern day use of devices such as Ipods where the ear phone is place right inside of the ear is also leading to increased numbers of people experiencing hearing loss at a younger age which is also a factor in causing Tinnitus. Constant loud noise is thought to cause damage to hair cells in the ear can lead to tiny changes to electric signals that pass up the auditory nerves to the brain.
More recent research suggests that Tinnitus is an issue with the brain searching for external sound that can no longer be heard clearly as a result of age-related hearing loss or loud noise exposure. Instead the brain tries to compensate by filling the empty space with noise. Indeed research in America on animals has shown that severing the auditory nerve dos not stop the symptoms of Tinnitus.
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