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What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a condition in which you hear noises when there is no outside source of the sounds. The noises can have many different forms (ringing, clicking, buzzing, roaring, whistling, or hissing) and can be soft or loud.

Usually, only the person experiencing the tinnitus can hear the sounds. Tinnitus can occur either with or without hearing loss, and can be perceived in one or both ears or in the head.

Who suffers from tinnitus?

Approximately 50 million Americans have some form of tinnitus. For most people, the sensation usually lasts only a few minutes at a time. About 12 million people have constant or recurring tinnitus that interferes with their daily life so much that they seek professional treatment.

People of any age can suffer from tinnitus, although it does not typically occur in children. Children with tinnitus should be evaluated for hearing loss or other underlying cause.

What causes tinnitus?

Although tinnitus often has no specific cause, the most common identifiable causes of tinnitus include the following:

  • hearing loss
  • exposure to loud noises
  • head injury
  • medication side effects
  • high or low blood pressure
  • wax buildup in the ear canal
  • fluid buildup behind the eardrum
  • problems of the heart, blood vessels, neck, jaw, or teeth

Your doctor will try to determine what is causing the condition. If it is not due to a medication side effect or a general medical condition (such as high blood pressure), he or she may refer you to an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat doctor) or an audiologist (hearing specialist). Unless the cause of the tinnitus is obvious on physical examination, a hearing test is usually required.

What is the treatment for tinnitus?

Learning the cause of tinnitus is often the most important step to finding the treatment that will work for you. In many cases there are no medical or surgical treatments for tinnitus; however, there are a number of management strategies that can give you some relief.

Treatment options for tinnitus include the following:

  • Hearing aids. Many people who have tinnitus also have hearing loss. Hearing aids provide relief from the tinnitus by amplifying the ambient background sounds while also improving communication function by amplifying incoming speech sounds. If your tinnitus is associated with hearing loss, hearing aids may help make tinnitus less noticeable and improve your communication function.
  • Sound generators. These adjustable ear-level devices produce a broadband sound ("shhh") that is delivered directly to the ear. These devices can be used for both tinnitus masking and habituation-based treatments such as tinnitus retraining therapy. Sound generators help the patient control their tinnitus and allow them to pay less attention to the tinnitus.
  • Combination instruments. A combination instrument is both a hearing aid and sound generator housed in a single unit. These units are appropriate for people who require the use of hearing aids and may gain additional benefit from the use of sound generators.
  • Environmental enrichment devices. Listening to music or recordings of nature or environmental sounds (such as ocean waves, rain forest, or bird calls) can also help mask the sound of tinnitus.
  • Neuromonics. A pleasant acoustic signal (embedded in music) is delivered to the ear through high fidelity earphones and a small credit-card size processor. This form of music therapy is a very pleasant alternative to other types of sound therapy and requires at least 6 months of active treatment time. The music also tends to enhance relaxation to help an individual cope with the tinnitus.
  • Relaxation techniques. Many people suffering from tinnitus find that it worsens when they are under stress. It can be beneficial to learn how to relax and ease stress to better deal with the frustrations of tinnitus. Treatment also may include cognitive behavioral therapy with a psychologist, to help you limit the attention you give to tinnitus and manage stress associated with the disorder.

Certain behaviors can make tinnitus worse and should be avoided whenever possible. These include:

  • Smoking or using other tobacco products
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Exposure to loud noises and sounds (If you work in a loud setting, wear earplugs to protect your hearing.)

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 12/23/2009…#14164

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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

© Copyright 2014 Cleveland Clinic. All rights reserved.