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Tinnitus Symptoms and Treatment

If you are plagued by a constant ringing sound inside your ears, that no one else can hear, you are not alone. Over 50 million Americans are believed to suffer from tinnitus, an audiological and neurological condition commonly called “ringing in the ears.”

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a medical term for a ringing, swishing, or buzzing sound in the ears. Tinnitus is sometimes described as the perception of sound in the head because the patient perceives the sound when no external sound is present.

Tinnitus can be an acute (temporary) condition or a chronic (ongoing) health issue. According to the American Tinnitus Association, millions of Americans experience tinnitus, often to a debilitating degree, making it one of the most common health conditions in the country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that nearly 15 percent of the general public experiences some form of tinnitus. Approximately 20 million people struggle with burdensome chronic tinnitus, while 2 million have extreme and debilitating cases.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Not a disease, tinnitus is considered to be a symptom of an underlying condition. The most common causes of tinnitus include:

  • Hearing loss (either age-related or noise-induced)
  • Obstructions in the middle ear
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (commonly called TMJ, and recognized by issues with the jaw)
  • Head and neck trauma
  • Sinus pressure
  • Barometric trauma (as experienced diving/snorkeling, extreme flying conditions, or from concussive blasts)
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Ototoxic drugs (including commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), certain antibiotics and diuretics)
  • Other common conditions including metabolic disorders, autoimmune disorders, blood vessel disorders, psychiatric disorders, and vestibular disorders

If you think you may have tinnitus, it is important to discuss your symptoms with your doctor to examine the underlying causes and what treatments may work best for you.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Because tinnitus is caused by a variety of conditions, it can also be treated in a variety of ways. Medical professionals often address the patient’s overall wellness first, before adding on additional treatments to alleviate tinnitus symptoms.

Tinnitus treatments may include:

  • Hearing aids
  • Sound therapies
  • Behavioral therapies
  • Drug therapies
  • TMJ treatments, including certain exercises to address jaw muscles

If your doctor recommends a drug therapy, it will be to address the underlying cause of tinnitus, not the perceived sounds themselves. There are presently no FDA-approved drugs specifically for tinnitus , and no medications that have been shown to reverse the neural hyperactivity at the root of tinnitus. Instead, your doctor may prescribe antidepressant or antianxiety medications as a part of your overall treatment.

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