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If you are hearing persistent buzzing, clicking, ringing, or tapping noises inside your ear, you are just one in over 40 million Americans who is experiencing this disturbing sensation. People experience this symptom in various ways - one may hear sounds in one or both ears, some people hear them all the time while in others, the sounds may come and go. The sounds may follow a pattern, like a pulsation, or they may occur randomly. Depending on the cause, they may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as ear pain, dizziness, headache, trouble sleeping, a sense of fullness in the involved ear, and depression. In some people, tinnitus lasts for a few weeks and goes away without treatment, but in others, symptoms may last for years and disrupt their daily activities.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a symptom of various conditions that may affect any part of the hearing mechanism, which includes the ear, the nerves and the brain. Your risk of developing tinnitus increases as you grow older and other factors in your environment may contribute, too. Living or working in noisy environments, taking certain medications, alcohol, or caffeinated beverages, rapid changes in atmospheric pressure (barotrauma) and injuries to the head or ear may also be important factors.

Some conditions that are frequently associated with tinnitus include:

  • Earwax buildup in the ear
  • Ear infection
  • Eardrum rupture
  • Dental or oral problems
  • Inner ear surgery
  • Radiation therapy to the head
  • Whiplash injury
  • High blood pressure or other vascular problems
  • Migraine headaches
  • Nerve problems such as multiple sclerosis
  • Brain tumor
  • Medications such as Aspirin, antibiotics, and antidepressants
  • Other diseases involving the ears, such as Meniere's disease, labyrinthitis, and otosclerosis

It is important for you to consult a doctor if your tinnitus continues to bother you because complications from an underlying disorder may occur if left untreated. Hearing loss is also possible.

Diagnosis

To evaluate the cause of your tinnitus, the doctor will take a complete medical history and physical examination. Further testing may be needed, which may include a hearing test or audiogram, xrays, other imaging exams of the brain (such as MRI), and other specific tinnitus tests.

Treatment

In some people, tinnitus may resolve spontaneously without treatment. In others, treating the underlying disorder, such as an ear infection or high blood pressure may cause improvement of symptoms, and in these cases, no further treatments may be necessary.

Some patients may need additional treatments such as counseling and tinnitus retraining therapy, which involves retraining nerve pathways and the brain to get used to the abnormal sounds. Suppressing the tinnitus with a hearing aid or using a tinnitus masker or a cochlear implant may also be prescribed. Various medications have also been tried, including antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and steroids.

Other measures that may be taken to relieve tinnitus include:

  • Quitting smoking.
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • Reducing salt intake.
  • Taking zinc supplements.
  • Taking melatonin supplements to improve sleep.
  • Taking ginkgo biloba to relieve tinnitus.
  • Exercising to improve blood flow.
  • Limiting exposure to loud noises.
  • Using background music or white noise to distract yourself from tinnitus.
  • Managing stress and practicing relaxation techniques, such as meditation, biofeedback, or yoga.

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