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Up to 50 million Americans experience phantom noises in one or both ears. Known as tinnitus, these sounds are often described as a ringing sensation, but may take on a hissing, buzzing, roaring, whooshing or whistling quality instead. For some people it is an inconvenience that occurs intermittently, while others are plagued by a constant background distraction. There is no cure for tinnitus, but your audiologist can recommend strategies for managing your symptoms.

Why Are My Ears Ringing?

Tinnitus is not a medical condition itself; it is classified as a symptom of an underlying disease. There are quite a few conditions that can trigger it including ear infections, exposure to noise, head or neck trauma, excess earwax, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, tumors, thyroid disorders, Meniere’s disease, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, ototoxic medications, etc. Your doctor might not even be able to pinpoint the exact cause.

While the vast majority of tinnitus cases are subjective, meaning only you can hear the ringing in your ears, in rare cases another individual – often a doctor – is able to hear it, as well. This is known as objective tinnitus. Tinnitus can also be described as pulsatile (keeps rhythm with your heartbeat or pulse) or nonpulsatile (no apparent pattern). Most people experience nonpulsatile tinnitus.

What Can Be Done to Quiet My Tinnitus?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus at the present time, though researchers are exploring different possibilities. By treating the underlying condition responsible for your symptoms, you may find relief. Most likely though, your doctor will utilize noise suppression or other masking techniques to “cover up” the ringing in your ears.

White noise therapy utilizes random sound frequencies distributed over the entire hearing spectrum to camouflage the ringing/buzzing/hissing, etc. of tinnitus. Patients are able to effectively tune out, or “mask,” background noise. There are many white noise machines available for sale, but the same effect can be achieved by running a fan, air conditioner or humidifier.

Tinnitus retraining devices are similar in concept, but rely on patterns of musical tones to “distract” the brain from the background noise.

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