Are Your Ears Ringing?

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?

  • Hear­ing loss. Doc­tors and sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered that peo­ple with dif­fer­ent kinds of hear­ing loss also have tinnitus.
  • Loud noise. Too much expo­sure to loud noise can cause noise-induced hear­ing loss and tinnitus.
  • Med­i­cine. 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.

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

What should I do if I have tinnitus?

The most impor­tant thing you can do is to go see your doc­tor. Your doc­tor can try to deter­mine what is caus­ing your tin­ni­tus. He or she can check to see if it is relat­ed to blood pres­sure, kid­ney func­tion, diet, or aller­gies. Your doc­tor can also deter­mine whether your tin­ni­tus is relat­ed to any med­i­cine you are taking.

To learn more about what is caus­ing your tin­ni­tus, your doc­tor may refer you to an oto­laryn­gol­o­gist (oh-toe-lair-in-GAH-luh-jist), an ear, nose, and throat doc­tor. He or she will exam­ine your ears and your hear­ing to try to find out why you have tin­ni­tus. Anoth­er hear­ing pro­fes­sion­al, an audi­ol­o­gist (aw-dee-AH-luh-jist), can mea­sure your hear­ing. If you need a hear­ing aid, an audi­ol­o­gist can fit you with one that meets your needs. 

How will hear­ing experts treat my tinnitus?

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.

Treat­ments can include:

  • 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.
  • Coun­sel­ing. Peo­ple with tin­ni­tus may become depressed. Talk­ing with a coun­selor or peo­ple in tin­ni­tus sup­port groups may be helpful.
  • Relax­ing. Learn­ing how to relax is very help­ful if the noise in your ears frus­trates you. Stress makes tin­ni­tus seem worse. By relax­ing, you have a chance to rest and bet­ter deal with the sound.

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 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. This includes 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 ear plugs 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.

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