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Everything You Wanted to Know About Tinnitus

Ear Anatomy
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What Is Tinnitus?

Many who are losing their hearing often experience phantom sounds, called tinnitus. But what is tinnitus? In the simplest of terms, tinnitus consists of hearing a sound when there is no external source making that sound. In very rare cases, the sound can also be heard by the person doing a hearing exam. In these cases, called objective tinnitus, the sound often has a physical cause that can range from the spasming of certain muscles in the inner ear to increased blood flow in the ear.

What Does Tinnitus Sound Like?

Tinnitus can cause a variety of sounds, the most common of which are described as ringing, rushing, whistling, or buzzing. While there are some commonalities in what people with tinnitus hear, the pitch and loudness will vary from person to person.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Once a person realizes that they have tinnitus, their next question is often, “What causes tinnitus?” Those afflicted with tinnitus want to know how it happened, and the answers to this question are fairly straight forward. Causes of tinnitus include medication side effects, injury to the head or the ear, a near infection that has damaged the ear in some way, loss of hearing due to age, and loud noises. Whatever the external cause might be, the sound itself is caused by the firing of nerve cells between the inner ear and the brain, thus fooling the brain into thinking that it is hearing something.

Does Tinnitus Go Away?

Tinnitus can sometimes go away on its own, but it depends on what is causing it in the first place. If tinnitus is caused by medication or excessive ear wax, then it should fade when the medication is stopped or the wax is removed. If tinnitus is caused by something else, the answer is less clear. Sometimes, the damage is permanent and the sound will continue forever. Other times, the ear will heal and the sound will fade until it is gone.

How Long Does Tinnitus Last?

Ringing in the ears from a loud rock concert will probably fade in a day or two. But if the sound is caused by more severe damage to the ears, it may not fade for months or years or could even be permanent. It really depends on what is the cause of the sound in the first place and if that cause can be treated or altered.

How to Get Rid of Tinnitus

With the miracles of modern medicine, more and more treatments for tinnitus are being developed, but often, the best answers are the simplest. Keep in mind, though, that if tinnitus is caused by hearing loss due to age or other permanent changes in your ears, you may never be able to fully get rid of it. There are, however, some things that can be done to help diminish its impact on your life. Sometimes, tinnitus is caused or worsened by stress, so learning to relax and eliminating sources of stress may help it diminish or disappear altogether. If you work or spend a lot of time in loud environments, make sure you are protecting your hearing with earplugs. This can at least help stop it from getting worse, if nothing else.

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