Tinnitus is the irritating symptom experienced as noise in the ears when no external sound is present. It may manifest as ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking or hissing. You may hear it the whole time or it may come and go. It’s not a health condition itself. Rather, it’s a symptom of an underlying condition, like age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder. Tinnitus affects about 20% of people and often gets worse with age. Luckily tinnitus usually improves with treatment. Identifying and treating the underlying cause may also help.
Many things can cause or worsen tinnitus, but often the exact cause can’t be identified. Commonly, age-related hearing loss; ear damage from loud noises (e.g. loud music or construction work) or injury; or earwax build-up; cause tinnitus. Blood vessel disorders - like high blood pressure or atherosclerosis (blood vessel narrowing) - also infrequently cause tinnitus. This is probably why smokers are more likely to experience tinnitus.
You’ll also need to watch out for medications that can cause or worsen tinnitus. These include antibiotics, cancer medications, diuretics (for high blood pressure), quinine medications (often used for malaria), some antidepressants and high doses of aspirin. Stopping these medications may often resolve your tinnitus. Prescription medications should only be stopped under the supervision of a medical doctor though.
Addressing the underlying cause can resolve tinnitus in some cases. Other cases need to be managed with devices like hearing aids, white noise devices or tonal devices that emit sound frequencies that counter the tinnitus and retrain you to be able to ignore it.
Certain conventional medications (like specific antidepressants) and some natural medicines (like Ginkgo biloba, vitamin A and co-enzyme Q10) may also help reduce symptoms. Neuromodulation using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a painless, non-invasive therapy that has been successful in reducing tinnitus symptoms for some people.
Stress, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine can make tinnitus worse and should be avoided by sufferers. Setting up white noise (e.g. a fan) or quiet sound (e.g. relaxing music) in your home may help mask the incessant noise.
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