Why is my head ringing

Tinnitus: what to do about the ringing in the head?

Almost everyone knows ringing in the ears. They appear all of a sudden, but luckily they go away just as quickly. In some people, however, the tones nestle over days, weeks, months and even years: tinnitus becomes a constant companion. It is part of everyday life for around three million people in Germany.

Often it is high-pitched whistling and beeping noises that those affected perceive. However, tinnitus can also manifest itself in a rattling, hissing, hissing or deep hum. "Strictly speaking, the number of different noise sensations is at least as high as the number of people who have noises in their ears," writes the self-help organization German Tinnitus League.

Tinnitus usually arises in the brain

But where do the sounds come from? In very rare cases, an objective sound source is actually responsible for the noises in the ear. For example, if blood has to flow through narrowed vessels near the ear, this can sometimes be heard. In such a case, an examining doctor is also able to perceive these tones.

As a rule, however, only the tinnitus patient himself perceives the noises in the ear. It is therefore a phantom noise, medical professionals speak of a subjective tinnitus. And it does not arise in the ear, but in the brain - scientists today largely agree on this.

Compensation attempts as a trigger

There are many possible triggers for this phenomenon. Tinnitus often develops as a result of disorders of the hearing system, for example in the case of hearing loss, sudden hearing loss or after noise damage. Defects such as destroyed hair cells in the inner ear then mean that those affected can no longer hear certain frequencies as well or at all.

The brain tries to compensate for the missing auditory input. A common theory assumes that neurons in the auditory cortex, which no longer receive signals from the damaged hair cells, rely on information from neighboring nerve cells. The frequencies that these represent are overrepresented due to the incorrect switching - and now form the disturbing noise.

In many cases, however, it is not possible to determine the specific cause of the phantom noises. In up to 45 percent of patients, doctors cannot find a clear physical trigger for the tinnitus; it is then called idiopathic tinnitus.

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