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Tinnitus (Ringing in the Ears)

Tinnitus is the medical term for the perception of sound in one or both ears or in the head when no external sound is present. It is often referred to as “ringing in the ears,” although some people hear hissing, roaring, whistling, chirping or clicking. Tinnitus can be intermittent or constant-with single or multiple tones-and its perceived volume can range from subtle to shattering.

Tinnitus often accompanies hearing loss—such as when hearing loss is caused by noise damage to the ear. But the two conditions do not always occur together. Some people with tinnitus have no measurable hearing loss.

While the exact physiological causes of tinnitus are not known, there are some factors known to trigger or worsen tinnitus. These factors include noise exposure; head and neck trauma; disorders such as hyperthyroidism, Lyme disease and fibromyalgia. Tinnitus may also result from certain tumors, wax buildup, heart disease and ototoxic medications. Other than hearing loss, the individual factor most strongly associated with the presence and severity of tinnitus is stress.

While there is no cure for tinnitus, there are a number of tinnitus management strategies available, which may be successful in significantly reducing or eliminating tinnitus for an individual. These strategies may include treating the cause of tinnitus (e.g. adjusting ototoxic medication, treating hearing loss with hearing aids), relaxation therapy to address the stress component of tinnitus, or acoustic therapy.

Due to the unique nature of each tinnitus condition, proper evaluation and specialized treatment is necessary. For the best outcome, it is important for you to discuss your particular tinnitus experience with an audiologist or other qualified health professional.