Tinnitus (ti-NY-tus) is the sense of ringing, whistling, or similar noise in the ear even when there is no external sound.
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What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a mysterious disorder that affects as many as 50 million Americans. The sound that people with tinnitus hear is often described as a ringing, but it also can resemble whistles, sizzles, clicks, roars, or other sounds too complex to describe easily. Some people experience the noise only at certain times or notice it only when it is quiet, such as at bed-time. Others, however, live with a constant unpleasant sound.
The noise can be high-pitched like a baby's whine or low like a rumbling train. It might sound like a continuous tone or cycle in a rhythm, often in time with the heartbeat.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is usually a symptom of other problems, such as too much earwax or an ear or nasal infection. Other causes include cardiovascular disease, tumors, jaw misalignment, anemia, and neck and head injuries. Certain medicines, such as aspirin and some antibiotics, as well as carbon monoxide and alcohol, can also cause tinnitus. Long-term exposure to loud sounds like a jet plane or loud music can lead to tinnitus.
What Can a Doctor Do?
The first thing a doctor will do is look for the cause. If it is something that can be corrected, such as removing earwax or treating an infection, the tinnitus usually will go away.
Some people must find ways to live with tinnitus. Hearing aids are a common way to help, if the cause is related to hearing loss. Sometimes the person uses a device like a hearing aid that covers the tinnitus with another sound that is less noticeable or less disturbing.