Ringing in the ears, or tinnitus, can be stopped by treating the underlying cause of the condition, which may involve medications, devices, therapy, or coping strategies. Treatment methods include:
- Medications: Medications should be taken as prescribed and may cause side effects such as constipation, blurry vision, nausea, or fatigue. Drug therapy usually includes tricyclic antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications (nortriptyline, amitriptyline, or Xanax).
- Devices: Cochlear implants, hearing aids, and tinnitus maskers can also be used to treat the condition.
- Sound therapy: Low-level background music, specialized ear maskers, and white noise are remedies that can help you treat tinnitus symptoms at home.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy: Tinnitus retraining therapy retrains the auditory system and helps mask the abnormal sounds of tinnitus as natural rather than disruptive.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: Tinnitus can be caused by depression, anxiety, or stress. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help treat the condition in such cases.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus affects about 15% of people on average worldwide and is characterized by a ringing sound in the ears. Because the noises can be heard without an external source, the sounds are called phantom noises. Tinnitus can occur in one or both ears and can affect people of all ages.
Damage to the ear bones is one of the most common causes of this condition; however, tinnitus can result from anxiety, depression, substance abuse or an underlying health condition. Tinnitus can be frustrating because it interferes with regular hearing, but this condition can be improved with proper treatment.
What does tinnitus feel like?
Tinnitus is an internal sound that can be either low or high-pitched, and may sound like ringing in the ears, although others describe it as buzzing, humming, clicking, roaring, or hissing.
Most people are affected with subjective tinnitus but, in some cases, the sounds can be so loud that they interfere with the ability to concentrate on external sounds.
Tinnitus can cause a pulsing or whooshing sound that becomes rhythmical with your heartbeat, a condition called pulsatile tinnitus.
Seek immediate medical assistance if you develop tinnitus after an upper respiratory infection or are suffering from dizziness, hearing loss, or anxiety attacks along with tinnitus.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying condition. Sometimes, however, there is no identifiable cause for ringing in the ears.
Common causes of tinnitus include:
- Damage: Delicate cells in the inner ear trigger electrical signals that help the brain interpret sounds. These may get damaged, bent, or broken due to constant exposure to loud noises.
- Buildup: Buildup of fluid, earwax, foreign objects, or dirt can block the ear canal, causing a change in pressure.
- Injury: Injury to the head and neck tissues or nerves can lead to ear problems.
- Medications: Tinnitus can occur as a side effect of medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, cancer drugs, antidepressants, antimalarial drugs, and diuretics.
- Conditions: Tinnitus can be caused by conditions such as Eustachian tube dysfunction, temporomandibular joint disorder, acoustic neuroma, or blood vessel disorders.
- Spasms: Muscle spasms in the inner ear can cause hearing loss, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and tinnitus.
Ringing in the ears may be an early indicator of inner ear disorder called Meniere's disease, which is caused by abnormal inner ear fluid pressure.
What are risk factors for tinnitus?
Risk factors for tinnitus include:
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Harvard Health Publishing. Tinnitus: Ringing in the ears and what to do about it. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/tinnitus-ringing-in-the-ears-and-what-to-do-about-it
National Institutes of Health. Tinnitus. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/tinnitus
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