Tinnitus (Ringing in Ears): Causes & Treatment

How is tinnitus treated?

Tinnitus treatment depends on the cause. To learn more about the ringing in your ears, a healthcare provider (usually an audiologist) will do a physical examination and check your ears for any obvious issues. They’ll also ask about your medical history and whether you’ve had recent exposure to loud noises. Depending on your situation, they may refer you to an otolaryngologist. They can determine if you have any medical conditions affecting your ears.

Because tinnitus is a symptom of many conditions, providers may be able to treat it by addressing the underlying cause. But they may need to run tests to get an accurate diagnosis. These assessments might include:

  • Hearing tests like pure-tone audiometry, speech understanding and tympanometry if needed.
  • Blood tests to check for heart disease or other health conditions.
  • Imaging tests like MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scans.

You may also need an evaluation with a dentist to determine if tinnitus is a symptom of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).

What is the best way to deal with tinnitus?

For many people, tinnitus sound therapy can be very effective in decreasing how noticeable or bothersome your tinnitus is over time. An audiologist might recommend that you:

  • Use a noise machine. Things like white noise, nature sounds or ambient soundscapes can help distract your brain and reduce your tinnitus symptoms. You can purchase noise machines for this very purpose, but many fans and humidifiers emit white noise that can help with ear ringing, too. You can also find white noise playlists online or download noise-generating apps to your smartphone.
  • Wear in-ear noise generators. These are earbuds that give off a continuous white noise hum. You can wear them during the day whenever you need tinnitus relief. You shouldn’t sleep with these in, though. If you need a device for nighttime use, ask your audiologist about other options (like a headband with built-in headphones).

What are the possible complications of untreated tinnitus?

Left untreated, ringing in your ears could lead to:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Irritability.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Difficulty communicating.
  • Cognitive decline.

Can tinnitus be prevented?

Because tinnitus is a symptom of other health conditions, you can’t always prevent it. But you can take steps to protect your hearing, which can help reduce your risk. Hearing protection may be warranted:

  • When working in construction or factory settings.
  • In certain performance arts or music careers.
  • In some exercise classes. Many gyms play loud music for motivation.
  • At concerts and movie theatres. Noise levels at these types of events can be too loud and may harm your hearing over time.
  • When using power tools, mowing the lawn or utilizing other loud equipment.
  • With the use of firearms like recreational shooting or hunting.

You should also be mindful any time you wear headphones or earbuds. Protect your ears by keeping the volume low.

Audiologists can fit custom hearing protection. Consider seeing an audiologist for this service if you participate in one or more of these activities frequently.

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