By National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Tinnitus is commonly described as a ringing in the ears, but it also can sound like roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing. It may be soft or loud, high pitched or low pitched. You might hear it in either one or both ears.
Tinnitus is a symptom associated with many forms of hearing loss. It can also be a symptom of other health problems. Roughly 25 million Americans have experienced tinnitus. Some cases are so severe that it interferes with a person's daily activities. People with severe cases of tinnitus may find it difficult to hear, work, or even sleep.
What Causes Tinnitus?
One of the most common causes of tinnitus is damage to the microscopic endings of the hearing nerve in the inner ear. Advancing age is generally accompanied by a certain amount of hearing nerve impairment, and consequently chronic tinnitus.
Exposure to loud noises is a very common cause of tinnitus, and it often damages hearing as well. Unfortunately, many people are unconcerned about the harmful effects of excessively loud noise, firearms, and high intensity music.
More than 200 medicines can cause tinnitus. If you have tinnitus and you take medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether your medicine could be involved.
Allergies, tumors, and problems in the heart and blood vessels, jaws, and neck can cause tinnitus.
Treatments for Tinnitus
A doctor can try to determine what is causing tinnitus. He or she can check to see if it is related to blood pressure, kidney function, diet, allergies or medications.
An otolaryngologist, or an audiologist, can test hearing and try to determine the cause of the problem. If a hearing aid is needed, an audiologist can fit you with one.
Although there is no cure for tinnitus, 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.
Hearing aids. Many people with tinnitus also have a hearing loss. Wearing a hearing aid makes it easier for some people to hear the sounds they need to hear by making them louder. The better you hear other people talking or the music you like, the less you notice your tinnitus.
Maskers. Maskers are small electronic devices that use sound to make tinnitus less noticeable. Maskers do not make tinnitus go away, but they make the ringing or roaring seem softer. For some people, maskers hide their tinnitus so well that they can barely hear it.
Some people sleep better when they use maskers. Listening to static at a low volume on the radio or using bedside maskers can help. These are devices you can put by your bed instead of behind your ear. They can help you ignore your tinnitus and fall asleep.
Medicine or drug therapy. Some medicines may ease tinnitus. If your doctor prescribes medicine to treat your tinnitus, he or she can tell you whether the medicine has any side effects.
Tinnitus retraining therapy. This treatment uses a combination of counseling and maskers. Otolaryngologists and audiologists help you learn how to deal with your tinnitus better. You may also use maskers to make your tinnitus less noticeable. After a while, some people learn how to avoid thinking about their tinnitus. It takes time for this treatment to work, but it can be very helpful.
NIDCD is mandated to conduct and support biomedical and behavioral research and research training in the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language.