Dear Savvy Senior
What can you tell me the about the constant ear ringing syndrome known as tinnitus? At age 56, I have had it for several years but it has gotten more and more noticeable lately. Is there anything I can do?
— Ringing Rhonda
Tinnitus (pronounced ti-NIGHT-us) is a common disorder that affects nearly one in six Americans. Here’s what you should know along with some tips and treatments that may help.
Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing a ringing, buzzing, roaring, hissing or whistling sound in one or both ears when no external sound is present. The sounds, which can vary in pitch and loudness, are usually worse when background noise is low, so you may be most aware of it at night when you’re trying to fall asleep in a quiet room. For most people tinnitus is merely annoying, but for many others it can be extremely disturbing.
What causes tinnitus?
It’s important to know that tinnitus is not a disease, but a symptom that can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions. The best way to find out what’s causing your tinnitus is to see an audiologist, or ear, nose and throat doctor (otolaryngologist). The various things that can cause tinnitus are:
• Exposure to loud noise: This is the most common cause.
• Hearing loss: For many people, hearing loss can cause tinnitus.
• Earwax: A build-up of wax deep in the ear canal can cause temporary tinnitus and hearing loss.
• Medications: Over 200 different drugs can cause ringing ears including aspirin, especially when taken in high doses. For a list of drugs that can cause tinnitus call the American Tinnitus Association at 800-634-8978.
• Health conditions: Various medical conditions can also trigger tinnitus such as high blood pressure, vascular disease, diabetes, allergies, thyroid problems, ear or sinus infections, Meniere’s disease, otosclerosis, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome, a tumor, an injury to the head or neck and more.