The term tinnitus is used to describe the condition where the ears perceive sounds that are not present. Many people refer to this as “ringing in the ears,” but that is not an accurate description. Tinnitus can be described as ringing, buzzing or a whistling noise. It doesn’t matter what you call it; it can range from a temporary annoyance to a condition that affects your quality of life.

Causes of tinnitus

Tinnitus can be a symptom of an underlying condition such as high blood pressure or an ear infection. In these cases, when the underlying condition (high blood pressure or infection) is treated the tinnitus disappears.

Tinnitus can also be caused by sensorineural hearing loss, injury to the neck or head, exposure to loud noise or other reasons. Most tinnitus is caused by damage to the inner ear.

It is more common in people over the age of 60 and some estimates place it as high as one in 10 adults.

Managing tinnitus 

If the tinnitus is temporary as the result of an ear infection, it will subside once the infection clears and the ear heals. If it is caused by ototoxic medication, it may go away once the medication is changed. However, for the most part, tinnitus cannot be cured because it’s considered a chronic condition. This means it must be managed. The most effective means of management is to take attention away from the tinnitus.

  • Sound therapy: This management method involves using external noise to mask the tinnitus. People use low background music or white noise machines to direct attention away from the tinnitus.
  • Tinnitus feedback training: With the help of a hearing specialist, the auditory system can be trained treat the tinnitus as natural. This requires wearing a white-noise producing device and requires intensive and on-going counseling sessions as well.
  • Hearing aids: Hearing aids can also be used to improve the quality of life with tinnitus. Since most people with tinnitus have some level of hearing loss, addressing the hearing loss also addresses the tinnitus. By bringing up the normal volume of background noise, the tinnitus can be masked with natural noise from the environment.

Reducing symptoms 

Alcohol, nicotine and aspirin can all cause tinnitus or increase tinnitus symptoms. If you drink, smoke or take aspirin eliminate these triggers and see if your symptoms improve. In addition, be sure to get plenty of sleep as fatigue and stress can make tinnitus symptoms worse.

Whether tinnitus is just an annoyance or something affecting your quality of life, you should see a hearing professional to determine the cause of your tinnitus.