By Diane Krieger Spivak
If you experience a constant ringing in your ears, you have company.
The noise you hear in your head is called tinnitus, and about 50 million people in the United States – 15 percent – have it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s a common neurological condition that causes you to hear a sound that has no external source. Typically the sound is referred to as buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing or clicking. It can be temporary or permanent, says the American Tinnitus Association.
The CDC reports that about 20 million people experience chronic tinnitus, and 2 million suffer debilitating effects.
Tinnitus often accompanies hearing loss resulting from a number of causes, including age, typically starting at age 60. This common form is usually in both ears. Noise-induced hearing loss is a result of exposure to loud noises from work, sporting events, concerts, recreational activities or the result of an accident, according to ATA. This type can be in one ear only.
Blockages in the ear, from ear wax, congestion, loose hair or dirt or foreign objects can also cause tinnitus. Removal of the blockage may or may not eliminate tinnitus symptoms. Tinnitus can also result from injury to the head or neck or from temporomandibular (TMS) joint disorders of the jaw, and from sinus pressure from a cold, flu or sinus infection, or from certain prescription drugs.
Treatment for tinnitus varies. If due to an underlying cause, treating or eliminating the cause can sometimes cure the tinnitus. If the cause is untreatable or the tinnitus is permanent, treatment of tinnitus symptoms can include a tinnitus masker, worn like a hearing aid, that emits white noise to mask the tinnitus noise. Hearing aids often treat not only impaired hearing, but can also reduce tinnitus symptoms.
Consult your hearing health professional for answers to your tinnitus questions.