There are many possible causes for tinnitus in one ear: ranging from a build-up of earwax to cancer in the most serious cases. The noise might be unmistakable, but you should never ignore it. Tinnitus can be a symptom of many health conditions, and could even result in hearing loss if left untreated. But what is tinnitus? And what could be causing it?
Tinnitus is when you hear a noise, often described as a ringing – but not always, in your ears which isn’t actually happening outside you.
This experience can, understandably, be incredibly irritating for those affected.
The noises you hear when you have tinnitus are said to vary, being described as:
- Music or singing
However, tinnitus isn’t actually considered a health condition in itself, but a symptom of other conditions.
Tinnitus can affect both your ears, or just one.
When you have tinnitus in just one ear, it is referred to as unilateral tinnitus.
What causes tinnitus in one ear?
One common cause of unilateral tinnitus is a build-up of earwax.
Everyone needs a healthy amount of earwax to prevent any harmful bacteria from reaching your ear canal, and from there travelling to your eardrum.
However, if your body creates too much earwax, it can cause a blockage resulting in compromised hearing or tinnitus in one ear.
This is because all the ear wax creates increased pressure in your ear, stimulating the nerves in your inner ear.
Your brain receives these nerve signals and reads them as noises, creating tinnitus: the imagined noises or auditory hallucinations – annoyingly real to you, but not audible to anyone else.
If you suspect you have a build-up of earwax, don’t attempt to remove it yourself.
Make an appointment with an audiologist who will be able to assess you, or go to your GP who can refer you to a specialist.
Ménière’s Disease is a chronic condition affecting the inner ear, causing tinnitus as well as dizziness and hearing loss.
This condition tends to flare-up, it can subside for months or even years, and the flare-ups can range in severity from feeling a bit dizzy to full-on vertigo.
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Chronic ear infections are the most common cause of unilateral tinnitus amongst children.
These infections often affect the middle ear and are known as otitis media.
One more obvious cause of unilateral tinnitus is an injury to the affected ear, causing an eardrum rupture.
Eardrum ruptures vary in size: small ones tend to heal on their own, but after a large one people can be left needing surgery.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
In some cases, people with multiple sclerosis can experience tinnitus in one ear.
This happens as a result of the effect MS has on the brain.
Cholesteatoma can sometimes happen as a result of chronic ear infections.
This is a growth of skin cells behind the eardrum, which if left untreated can cause long-term damage to the ear resulting in hearing loss.
Developing cancer in the ear, nose or throat can result in tinnitus.
If you visit your GP about your tinnitus, they should examine and investigate any possible underlying causes for tinnitus in one or both ears.
If you’re worried about tinnitus, make an appointment with your doctor who can assess you and refer you to an ear specialist.