Tinnitus (pronounced TIN-it-us or tin-NIGHT-us) is the perception of a sound or noise in the ear or head. Statistics obtained by the American Tinnitus Association indicate that up to 50 million people in the United States experience tinnitus! Tinnitus is commonly reported as a ringing or bell noise, but it has also been described as clicking, roaring, hissing, static and “motor” noises. Tinnitus has unique variations, and reports from those afflicted with tinnitus vary greatly in terms of the sound and volume. Most people experience tinnitus in both ears, though it may occasionally be perceived in one ear only. Medical evaluation should be sought if tinnitus is present in one ear only as it may be a symptom of other medical conditions.
The exact causes of tinnitus are unknown. Tinnitus has been associated with many conditions and factors, including but not limited to hearing loss, noise exposure, ear wax impaction, side effects of medications, fatigue, stress, vascular abnormalities and ear and head/neck traumas. Tinnitus is unique. Factors that may contribute to tinnitus in one individual may not influence tinnitus in another.
Though it is the subject of extensive research, there is currently no known cure for tinnitus. The nature of tinnitus is unpredictable. For some it may spontaneously resolve over time. Others learn to live with tinnitus as a chronic condition. Coping strategies are recommended to manage tinnitus symptoms.
Some tinnitus coping strategies include:
- Refocus attention. Concentrating on the sound of the tinnitus can make it more noticeable. Engaging in activities and tasks that require attention can divert focus away from the tinnitus. Watching a favorite television program, reading an interesting story and pursuing hobbies can provide activities to refocus attention.
- Wear hearing aids if appropriate for your hearing. While hearing aids do not cure or prevent tinnitus, reports indicate that appropriately fit amplification can sometimes mask the sound of tinnitus when worn.
- Noise masking devices are available to disguise the sound of tinnitus. Some devices are specifically designed for tinnitus while others provide soothing environmental noises to mask the sound. A radio played at a low volume can also provide masking noise. Some people find these options helpful if tinnitus is interfering with the ability to fall asleep.
- Practice hearing conservation, particularly when operating machinery and power tools and while attending concerts. Loud noise has been associated with tinnitus.
- Stress management. Tinnitus may be more prevalent during periods of stress. Consider breathing exercises, yoga or taking a walk to reduce stress.
- Get adequate sleep at night. Fatigue has been associated with increased tinnitus.
It is recommended to obtain a hearing test when tinnitus occurs because it can be a sign of a change in hearing.
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