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Unilateral tinnitus refers to a ringing or buzzing sensation in one ear. It is a very common problem that can have a number of different causes. Earwax buildups, acute ear infections, head injuries, and certain medications can all result in temporary unilateral tinnitus. Chronic problems are usually related to more serious medical disorders, such as Meniere's disease and cancerous or benign tumors. Treatment for unilateral tinnitus depends on the underlying cause, but most cases can be relieved with simple clinical procedures and medications.
Constant or frequent ringing noises are usually related to cell damage in the inner ear. Exposure to very loud sounds, head and neck injuries, impacted earwax, and deep ear infections can all damage the sensitive cells. As a result, they are unable to accurately translate noises into electrical signals that can be interpreted in the brain. Damaged cells mistakenly release impulses that are recognized as ringing or buzzing by the brain when no sound is present.
Other possible causes of unilateral tinnitus include tumors that suppress auditory nerves or blood vessels in the brain, congenital ear bone deformities, and chronic illnesses. Meniere's disease is a serious inner ear disorder that can result in unilateral tinnitus as well as vertigo, headaches, and permanent hearing loss. Some antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, and malaria medications cause temporary ear ringing in a small number of patients as well. Depression and excess stress may also trigger tinnitus symptoms in some people, though doctors do not fully understand the correlation.
Tinnitus may be experienced differently by everyone. Some people have high-pitched ringing or hissing sounds in their ears, while others notice low, deep buzzes or roars. The sound may be very soft and not impair hearing, or it can be loud enough to block out all other noises. It is important to visit a doctor whenever any lasting symptoms of unilateral tinnitus are present to undergo tests and learn about treatment options.
During an initial visit, a doctor usually asks about symptoms, medical history, and medication use. A simple auditory test can determine the severity of tinnitus and hearing loss. A physical exam may reveal earwax buildup, infection, or injuries to the inner ear. If an obvious cause cannot be discovered, a patient may need to undergo diagnostic imaging scans and provide blood samples.
A doctor can easily relieve unilateral tinnitus that is caused by earwax impaction by swabbing or flushing the inner ear. If medications are responsible for symptoms, a patient may need to change drugs or stop their use if possible. Depression, Meniere's disease, and infections are treated accordingly with specialized medications. People who have lasting tinnitus or hearing loss despite treatment may need to wear hearing aids.