Tinnitus Overview

Hear Ringing in the Ear?

Ringing in the ear, or tinnitus, is a widespread condition that affects an estimated 50 million Americans. Some people describe it as a hissing, roaring, whooshing or buzzing sound instead of ringing. It may be sporadic or constant, and is a symptom of an underlying condition rather than a disease itself. There are many factors that can cause tinnitus.

12 million people have tinnitus so severe they seek medical attention

What are the causes of Tinnitus?

  • Fluid in the middle ear
  • Ear infections
  • High blood pressure
  • Head and neck tumors
  • Blocked arteries

Nonpulsatile tinnitus – ringing in the ears not accompanied by any type of rhythm – is considerably more common. It can be caused by a variety of conditions including:

  • Presbycusis (age-related hearing loss)
  • Noise exposure
  • Impacted earwax
  • Otosclerosis (stiffening of the bones in the middle ear)
  • Meniere’s disease
  • TMJ disorders
  • Ototoxic medications
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Head or neck trauma
  • Acoustic neuromas

Tinnitus is also classified as being either subjective (heard only by the patient) or objective (ringing can be heard by an impartial observer, such as a doctor). Most cases of tinnitus are subjective in nature.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Tinnitus can’t be cured, but there are treatments that make it less of a distraction. The approach taken depends on the underlying condition responsible for the ringing in your ears. Sometimes, simple steps like removing built-up earwax or switching to a new medication can markedly decrease symptoms.

Since tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss, the use of hearing instruments may eliminate the bothersome tinnitus. Some hearing instruments have built-in tinnitus maskers.

Tinnitus retraining devices, which rely on patterned tones, are a newer technique that has proven beneficial to many patients.

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