What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the presence of noise in the ear when no external sound is present. It is often described as a ringing in the ears, but it can also sound like roaring, hissing, or buzzing.
Tinnitus is not a disease. It is a symptom that something is wrong in the auditory system, which includes the ear, the auditory nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain, and the parts of the brain that process sound. Something as simple as a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal can cause tinnitus. But it can also be the result of a number of health conditions, such as:
Causes of Tinnitus
Noise-induced hearing loss
Ear and sinus infections
Diseases of the heart or blood vessels
Hormonal changes in women
Can medications cause tinnitus?
More than 200 drugs are known to cause tinnitus when you start or stop taking them.
If I have tinnitus do I also have hearing loss?
Roughly 90 percent of tinnitus cases occur with an underlying hearing loss.
Does all tinnitus sound the same?
People afflicted with tinnitus have described it in a variety of ways:
So the answer is no, tinnitus does not sound the same to everyone.
Can other people hear my tinnitus?
Subjective tinnitus is the perception of sound in the absence of an acoustic stimulus and is heard only by the patient. Most tinnitus is subjective.
Objective tinnitus is uncommon and results from noise generated by structures near the ear. Sometimes the tinnitus is loud enough to be heard by other people.
What are researchers doing to better understand tinnitus?
Along the path a hearing signal travels to get from the inner ear to the brain, there are many places where things can go wrong to cause tinnitus. If scientists can understand what goes on in the brain to start tinnitus and cause it to persist, they can look for those places in the system where therapeutic intervention could stop tinnitus in its tracks.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) sponsors workshops that bring together tinnitus researchers to talk about the condition and develop fresh ideas for potential cures. During the course of the workshop, participants discuss a number of promising research directions.
We do not take a one-size-fits-all approach to treat tinnitus. A complicated problem requires a comprehensive approach to a solution. Tinnitus does not have a cure yet, but treatments that help many people cope better with the condition are available. Most doctors will offer a combination of the treatments depending on the severity of your tinnitus and the areas of your life it affects the most.
Hearing aids often are helpful for people who have hearing loss along with tinnitus. Using a hearing aid adjusted to carefully control outside sound levels may make it easier for you to hear. The better you hear, the less you may notice your tinnitus. Read the NIDCD fact sheet Hearing Aids for more information.
Wearable Sound Generators
Wearable sound generators are small electronic devices that fit in the ear and use a soft, pleasant sound to help mask the tinnitus. Some people want the masking sound to totally cover up their tinnitus, but most prefer a masking level that is just a bit louder than their tinnitus.
Counseling helps you learn how to live with your tinnitus. Most counseling programs have an educational component to help you understand what goes on in the brain to cause tinnitus. You might learn some things to do on your own to make the noise less noticeable, to help you relax during the day, or to fall asleep at night.
Tabletop Sound Generators
Tabletop sound generators or maskers are used as an aid for relaxation or sleep. Placed near your bed, you can program a generator to play pleasant sounds such as waves, waterfalls, rain, or the sounds of a summer night. If your tinnitus is mild, this might be all you need to help you fall asleep.
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