Tinnitus is a condition that affects hearing. A ringing or buzzing sound is heard in the ears. It causes people to hear noise even when everything around them is silent. The noise may be soft or loud. It could also be a rushing sound that matches the heartbeat. The sounds may be constant or on and off.
Tinnitus may develop in one or both ears. For some people, it’s a minor problem. For others, it becomes a serious handicap. Hearing may be lost in the affected ears.
The cause may be an illness or condition, for example, ear infections or very high blood pressure. An injury to the hearing system from loud noise exposure can also cause tinnitus. In most cases, the cause is unknown.
Symptoms include buzzing, ringing, clicking, roaring, and hissing sounds. Other symptoms may include hearing loss, dizziness, and vertigo.
The health care provider will do an examination, take a medical history, and maybe order tests. Blood tests may be done to check for other illnesses that may cause tinnitus. Special hearing tests may also be done. The health care provider will pay extra attention to your emotional state of mind. Many people with chronic tinnitus are depressed or very anxious and frustrated about their problem. You may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist for additional evaluation.
The health care provider may prescribe a treatment to reduce the annoying noise. The health care provider will also treat any illness or injury causing the tinnitus. For example, medicine may be prescribed to lower high blood pressure.
Several treatments can help reduce the annoying noise. More than one treatment may be used at the same time. Masking uses a device that makes calm, soothing background noise (called white noise). This background noise helps cover up the more annoying noise. Sometimes, soothing background music helps mask the noise. Another treatment is called tinnitus retraining therapy. People work with hearing experts who help retrain the ear not to hear the annoying noise. Biofeedback also teaches people how to change the way their bodies respond to stress. Biofeedback has helped many people with tinnitus. Some medicines may also help. A hearing aid may be needed if hearing loss has occurred.
People with mild tinnitus may not need treatment.
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