If you have tinnitus, your head is filled with sound — ringing, whistling, clicking and roaring — that no one else hears. Tinnitus (tin-NITE-us or TIN-ne-tus) can be sounds that are so soft you may not notice them or so loud they block out sounds coming from external sources.
Tinnitus is a common problem that affects more than 50 million people in the United States. For about 12 million Americans, tinnitus is a constant and noisy companion that affects their daily lives. People who have tinnitus may have trouble sleeping or concentrating. Living with tinnitus can make people feel angry, frustrated and depressed.
You may first notice tinnitus because you’re developing hearing loss, have a head injury or an everyday medical condition like an ear infection.
Healthcare providers may be able to cure tinnitus by treating the underlying condition. When they can’t, they recommend tactics to reduce its impact.
Healthcare providers don’t know exactly what causes tinnitus. They think abnormal activity in the part of your brain that processes sound may be responsible for tinnitus, but they don’t know how or why, or how to prevent that activity.
You can have tinnitus without hearing loss. Providers link tinnitus to about 200 different health conditions. Here are some examples:
Tinnitus isn’t a condition or disease. It’s a symptom of other conditions. Here are some steps your provider may take to learn more about your tinnitus:
If your healthcare provider has ruled out medical conditions apart from hearing loss, their next step is recommending ways to manage the impact of tinnitus on your life. Here are some examples:
Protecting your hearing is one of the best ways to avoid tinnitus. Start protecting your ears by thinking about all your regular activities. You may not realize all the ways you expose your ears to loud noises and sounds. Here are some potential activities that may affect your hearing:
At your workplace.
You may work in construction, landscaping or around loud machinery like an assembly line. Protect your hearing with earplugs.
At exercise class.
Many gyms play loud music to motivate and move people through exercise. If that’s your situation, use earplugs to protect your ears. At the very least, do your workout away from the music’s source.
At concerts and movie theatres.
This is another time it makes sense to use earplugs.
Any time you use earbuds with your volume turned all the way up. Protect your ears by keeping the volume low.
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