Tinnitus, sometimes called Ringing in the Ear, is a common nuisance that plagues an estimated 1 out of 5 Americans. It may be sporadic or constant, and ranges from barely noticeable to a full-time distraction that interferes with a person’s quality of life.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Many different conditions can cause tinnitus, which is considered a symptom rather than a disease. It can be caused by noise exposure, had and neck trauma, earwax buildup, cardiovascular disease, medications, natural aging, and a variety of disorders (e.g. Meniere’s disease, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, thyroid conditions).

While a ringing in the ears is most common, other patients describe the sound as a hissing, buzzing, roaring, whooshing, or whistling noise instead. Some people report a rhythmic pulse that appears to keep time with their heartbeat; this is usually the result of abnormal blood flow in the inner ear, and is rare. More often, tinnitus is nonpulsatile in nature.

Treatments for Tinnitus

Tinnitus can’t be cured with drugs; treatment targets the condition responsible for your symptoms instead. In some instances, simple solutions like removing impacted earwax or changing medications can bring about relief. Other times, tinnitus goes away on its own. But in many cases, symptoms are irreversible, and the patient must learn to live with the distraction.

Noise suppression therapy may be beneficial for these individuals. White noise machines and other masking devices cover up annoying background noises. Many people use fans, humidifiers, and air conditioners for this purpose, especially at night when they’re trying to sleep. Tinnitus retraining devices use patterned musical tones to refocus your attention away from tinnitus. Hearing aids are an additional option.