What is Tinnitus?

Ringing in the Ears: Facts About Tinnitus

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Do you hear a ringing, roaring, clicking or hissing sound in your ears? Do you hear this sound often or all the time? Does the sound bother you a lot? If you answer yes to these questions, you may have tinnitus (tin-NY-tus).

Tinnitus is a symptom associated with many forms of hearing loss and other health problems. Roughly 50 million Americans have experienced tinnitus, and in some cases the effects are so severe it interferes with their daily activities. If you have tinnitus you may find it difficult to hear, work, or even sleep.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus may be caused by the following conditions:

Hearing loss: The majority of people with tinnitus also have some kind of hearing loss.

Loud noise: Exposure to loud noise can cause permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. Continued exposure can make the tinnitus and hearing loss worse.

Medicine: More than 200 medicines, including aspirin, can cause tinnitus. If you have tinnitus and take medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether your medication(s) could be contributing to your symptoms.

Other potential causes: Allergies, tumors, problems in the heart and blood vessels, jaws, and neck can cause tinnitus.

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What should I do if I have tinnitus?

Make an appointment to see an audiologist for an evaluation. A careful review of your health history along with audiometric testing will lead to the most likely causes and best treatment for your tinnitus. You may be referred to an ear, nose and throat doctor for other examinations to ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment recommendations.

How will hearing experts treat my tinnitus?

Although there is no cure for tinnitus, audiologists, scientists and doctors have discovered several treatments that may give you some relief. Not every treatment works for everyone, so you may need to try several to find the ones that help.

Treatments can include:

Hearing aids: Most people with tinnitus have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing aids offer the dual benefit of enhancing hearing and masking or covering up the tinnitus. The majority of patients with tinnitus receive partial or complete relief from their tinnitus with the use of hearing aids.

Maskers: Tinnitus maskers are small electronic devices that look like hearing aids and are tuned to generate sound that masks or covers up the tinnitus. Like hearing aids, they may provide relief from the tinnitus, but will not enhance hearing and may interfere with the understanding of speech.

Many types of devices, such as fans, radios and sound generators can be used as tinnitus maskers to help tinnitus sufferers fall sleep or get back to sleep.

Medicine or drug therapy: As a tinnitus sufferer you may develop anxiety and other strong emotional responses to your tinnitus. Certain medicines may provide relief from these emotional reactions and from the tinnitus, as well. Other medicines and nutritional supplements can provide additional relief.

Neuromonics Tinnitus Therapy: This treatment uses a combination of testing, counseling and specialized masking to help you effectively manage and gradually reduce your response to the tinnitus. This treatment can take six months or more to complete but has the highest rate of success.

Counseling: If you have tinnitus you may experience anxiety, depression and other psychiatric problems. You may be referred to a psychiatrist or counselor as needed.

Relaxing: Learning how to relax is very helpful if the noise in your ears frustrates you. Stress makes tinnitus appear worse. By relaxing, you have a chance to rest and better deal with the sound.

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What can I do to help myself?

Think about things that will help you cope. Many people find listening to music very helpful. Focusing on music might help you forget about your tinnitus for a while. It can also help to mask the sound. Other people like to listen to recorded nature sounds like ocean waves, the wind, or even crickets.

Avoid anything that can make your tinnitus worse, such as smoking, alcohol and loud noise. If you are a construction worker, an airport worker, or a hunter, or if you are regularly exposed to loud noise at home or at work, wear earplugs or special earmuffs to protect your hearing and keep your tinnitus from getting worse.

If it is hard for you to hear over your tinnitus, ask your friends and family to face you when they talk so you can see their faces. Seeing their expressions may help you understand them better. Ask people to speak louder, but not shout. Also, tell them they do not have to talk slowly, just more clearly.

What is the next step?

Schedule an appointment with an audiologist to evaluate your tinnitus and discuss treatment options.

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