Neurological tinnitus refers to two different aspects of tinnitus. Neurological tinnitus can refer to tinnitus caused by a disorder like Meniere's disease that primarily affects the brain's auditory functions.
The term neurological tinnitus can also be used to describe how auditory nerves react to hearing loss. While in some tinnitus, objective tinnitus, the patient hears actual sounds produced by disturbances in the cardiovascular system, in most tinnitus, patients think they hear sounds because of neurological dysfunction.
Neurological tinnitus can be caused by disorders like Meniere's disease, which affects the brain's auditory functions. As you move your head, the fluid of the inner ear, endolymph, moves. Movement causes nerve receptors to signal the brain. With Meniere's disease, a buildup of endolymph interferes with balance and hearing signals between the ear and the brain. One result is tinnitus. Fluid volume changes because of things like :
- Genetic predisposition
- Blockage or anatomic abnormality leading to drainage problems
- Abnormal immune response
The disease usually only affects one ear, and typically patients are in their 40's or 50's. Depending on the cause of the endolymph changes, medication, or lifestyle changes can improve symptoms. As a chronic condition, and the disease often goes into periods of remission.
Does Damaged Hearing Cause Neurological Tinnitus?
In someone with normal hearing, neurological activity goes unnoticed. When your hearing is damaged and diminished, the neurological activity is "uncovered." With hearing loss, the brain automatically turns up sensitivity in the hearing system to compensate. The patient perceives neural activity as sound. Additionally, the brain engages a filtering mechanism that readily detects the tinnitus among other signals along the auditory pathways.
While doctors usually use the phrase neurological tinnitus to talk about tinnitus caused by something like Meniere's Disease, they also use the term to differentiate between objective tinnitus caused by cardiovascular problems and subjective tinnitus. In subjective tinnitus, the phantom noise happens because of a neurological reaction to hearing loss.
Senior Editor, Audien Hearing