Tinnitus is the ringing you hear in your ears. You may have this for a short time, like after a loud concert. Or, it may happen all the time. Audiologists can help you manage your tinnitus.

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About Tinnitus

Tinnitus is the ringing you hear in your ears. It can sound like hissing, roaring, pulsing, whooshing, chirping, whistling, or clicking. Tinnitus can be in one or both ears.

You may hear it said in different ways. Some people say TIN-a-tus. Some say Tin-EYE-tus. Either way is correct.

Tinnitus is common. Most of us have had ringing or other sounds in our ears at some time. For some, tinnitus can be constant and annoying.

More information on this topic is in our Audiology Information Series [PDF]. You can also look at the Tinnitus Infographic [PDF].

Causes of Tinnitus

We do not know the exact cause of tinnitus. One thing we do know is that you are not imagining it. If you have tinnitus, chances are the cause will remain a mystery.

Conditions that might cause tinnitus include the following:

  • Hearing loss
  • Ménière's disease
  • Loud noise exposure
  • Migraines
  • Head injury
  • Drugs or medicines that are toxic to hearing
  • Anemia
  • High blood pressure
  • Stress
  • A lot of wax in the ear
  • Certain types of tumors
  • Having a lot of caffeine
  • Smoking cigarettes

You may find that your tinnitus is worse at night. This happens because it is quiet and you are not distracted. Feeling tired and stressed may make your tinnitus worse.

Testing for Tinnitus

Tinnitus is not a disease. It happens because of some other problem. The first thing you should do is visit your doctor. Your doctor can check you for some of the issues that may cause tinnitus.

You should have your hearing tested by an audiologist. Some types of hearing loss and hearing problems can cause tinnitus. A hearing test can help you learn the cause and treatment options.

We cannot measure tinnitus directly. The audiologist needs you to describe the problems you have. They may ask you these questions:

  • Do you hear ringing in your left ear? Right ear? Both?
  • Is the ringing constant?
  • Do you notice it more at certain times of the day or night?
  • Can you describe the sound or the ringing?
  • Is the sound high-pitched? Low-pitched?
  • How loud is the sound?
  • Does the sound ever get louder or softer? Does it change pitch?
  • Are there times when the tinnitus gets worse? Does it happen when you drink caffeine? When you take certain medicines? After you hear loud noises?
  • Does the tinnitus make it hard to sleep? To work? To concentrate?
  • How annoying is your tinnitus?

Learning about tinnitus can be a relief. You can start to take control of it by changing things that may make it worse.

Treatment for Tinnitus

The best way to treat tinnitus is to get rid of the causes. In some cases, you can treat the illness or disease that causes your tinnitus. It will then go away. For most people, however, the cause is unknown, and there is no treatment. You can manage your tinnitus, even if it will not go away. Here are some ways you can manage your tinnitus:

  • Biofeedback
  • Hypnosis
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Relaxation therapy
  • Counseling
  • Therapy to get you used to the sound
  • Tinnitus maskers
  • Sound machines

You may work with an audiologist and with an ear, nose, and throat doctor, or ENT. They can help you find the treatment that works best for you.

The American Tinnitus Association (ATA) has information on different treatment options.

Hearing Aids and Other Devices

A hearing aid may help your tinnitus if you have a hearing loss. An audiologist can help you find and use the best hearing aid for you.

Tinnitus maskers look like hearing aids. They make a sound that masks, or covers up, the tinnitus. The masking sound distracts you from the ringing in your ears. You may be able to use a masker and a hearing aid at the same time.

Sound machines can be useful at night or during quiet times. There are machines you can buy at the store. Or, you can find apps on your phone that make sounds, like the ocean or rainfall. Fish tanks, fans, quiet music, and indoor waterfalls can help, as well.

Self-Help Groups

It may help for you to talk to others who have tinnitus. You may learn other ways to manage tinnitus and the stress it causes. Self-help groups exist in many communities. They can give you a sense of hope and control over tinnitus.

Your audiologist can connect you with a self-help group in your area. For help finding a group near you, visit the American Tinnitus Association (ATA).

To find an audiologist near you, visit ProFind.

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