Tinnitus is the perception of sound within the ear. It is usually described as a ringing noise, but can also sound like hissing, roaring, whooshing, clicking, chirping, whistling or buzzing. It varies in pitch and volume, may occur in one or both ears and can be an occasional nuisance or a constant irritation. Tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 Americans.
Most cases of tinnitus are subjective in nature, meaning only you can hear the sounds. On rare occasions, a doctor may also hear them during an examination. This type is known as objective tinnitus. Tinnitus isn’t a disease itself, but a symptom of another condition. There are many possible causes, including:
- Hearing loss
- Noise exposure
- Meniere’s disease
- Head or neck injury
- TMJ disorder
- Excessive earwax
- Ototoxic medications
- Acoustic neuroma
Many times, the exact cause of tinnitus is unknown. Those with an increased risk are older, male, smokers and persons with cardiovascular problems. Tinnitus can severely impact your quality of life. Those suffering may experience fatigue, lack of sleep, memory and concentration problems, depression, anxiety and irritability.
In order to treat tinnitus, the underlying condition responsible for your symptoms should be identified, if possible. The solution may be as simple as removing built up earwax or switching to a different medication. When the condition causing your tinnitus is unknown or untreatable, noise suppression techniques are often recommended. This involves the use of an electronic device to generate white noise, which masks the ringing in your ears, making it less annoying. You can try using a fan, humidifier or air conditioner to achieve the same effect. Other options include hearing aids and tinnitus retraining devices that rely on patterned tones to divert your brain’s attention. Certain antidepressants and other medications are also believed to lessen symptoms, but these often produce side effects and may be habit forming.