Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no external noise is present.
While it is often described as “ringing in the ears,” tinnitus can also sound like hissing, roaring, buzzing, or clicking.
The noise may be soft or loud, low pitched or high pitched.
It is often worse when background noise is low, so you may be most aware of it at night when you’re trying to fall asleep in a quiet room.
In rare cases, the sound beats in sync with your heart (pulsatile tinnitus).
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication (NIDCD), tinnitus is not a condition.
It is a symptom that can result from a variety of underlying causes.
In many cases, tinnitus is caused by damage to the auditory system.
This can occur as a result of exposure to loud noise, head trauma, or certain medications.
Other causes include ear wax buildup, an infection in the ear canal (otitis externa or media), Meniere’s disease, or hormonal changes in women.
In addition, tinnitus is a common symptom of iron deficiency anemia.
That is why women who have heavy menstrual bleeding always complain of ringing in their ears.
With that said, when ringing in the ears lasts more than six months, it becomes a chronic condition.
In some cases, the sound can become so loud that it interferes with your ability to concentrate or hear normal conversation.
What to do about tinnitus (ringing in the ears)?
If you have short-term tinnitus, it may go away within a few days.
But if you have chronic tinnitus, the ringing in your ears can persist for months or even years.
There is no cure for chronic tinnitus, but there are treatments that can help to minimize the symptoms.
If you have tinnitus, you may want to try one or more of the following treatments:
1. Sound therapy
One way to help relieve tinnitus is to use sound to mask the noise.
You can use a fan, white noise machine, or app to create background noise.
Some people find relief from tinnitus by listening to music or other calming sounds.
Make sure the volume is not too loud, as this can worsen tinnitus.
2. Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of counseling that can help you manage your tinnitus.
CBT can teach you how to cope with the ringing in your ears and make it less bothersome. (1)
3. Relaxation techniques
Doctors usually recommend relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing, which can help to reduce stress and anxiety.
When you’re less stressed, you may be less aware of tinnitus. (2)
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves inserting thin needles into your skin at specific points.
Research has shown that acupuncture can be effective in treating tinnitus. (2)
5. Tinnitus retraining therapy
Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) is a type of counseling that can help you learn to habituate to the ringing in your ears.
TRT involves wearing a device that produces a masking noise, such as white noise or ocean sounds.
The goal of TRT is to help you retrain your brain so that you no longer notice tinnitus. (3)
6. Limit alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine
Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine can all make tinnitus worse.
So if you have tinnitus, it’s important to limit or avoid these substances.
7. Get regular exercise
The British Tinnitus Association (BTA) recommends getting regular exercise to help reduce tinnitus.
They claim that regular exercise helps individuals to better ignore and manage their tinnitus.
Also, research has shown that regular aerobic exercise can improve blood circulation and reduce inflammation throughout the body, both of which may help to lessen tinnitus symptoms.
8. Reduce your exposure to loud noises
Loud noise is a common trigger for tinnitus.
To help prevent tinnitus from getting worse, it’s important to avoid exposure to loud noises when possible.
If you can’t avoid loud noise, wear earplugs or other hearing protection when exposed to them.
The bottom line
Ringing in the ears is a common condition that can be caused by a variety of underlying causes.
In many cases, you can manage tinnitus effectively with sound therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, and acupuncture.
It’s also important to limit your exposure to loud noise and get regular exercise.
If you have tinnitus, these treatments may help to minimize your symptoms.
See your doctor if your tinnitus is severe or does not go away.
They can rule out underlying causes and recommend further treatment.
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