Ringing In Your Ears? Learn How To Manage Your Tinnitus

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If you have a seemingly constant noise in your head — a sort of ringing or buzzing in your ears — you’re not alone. About 15% of people (50 million Americans) experience tinnitus.

"With tinnitus, the noise you hear isn't caused by an external sound, and other people usually can't hear it," explains Karrie Slominski, AuD, an audiologist at Henry Ford Health System. "It can be high-pitched or low-pitched and it can come and go.”

Frequently Asked Questions About Tinnitus

Tinnitus can be a temporary reaction to loud noises or a chronic problem that affects your daily living. Here, Dr. Slominski answers frequently asked questions about tinnitus — and what you can do about it.

Q: What is tinnitus?

Dr. Slominski: Most people describe tinnitus as a ringing in their ears without any external sound or stimulus. But the experience of tinnitus varies. Some people describe humming, buzzing, chirping, hissing, roaring, even shrieking. The sound may stem from one ear or both, you may sense it inside your head or at a distance, and it can be intermittent or constant. In some cases, the sound is so loud it impacts your ability to concentrate and hear real sounds.

In rare cases, tinnitus has a sort of rhythmic pulsing or whooshing sound linked with your heartbeat called pulsatile tinnitus.

Q: What causes tinnitus?

Dr. Slominski: Almost everyone experiences tinnitus from time to time. It may be associated with hearing loss, noise exposure, wax in the ear canal, certain medical conditions, diet and even stress.

Q: Is tinnitus linked to COVID-19?

Dr. Slominski: To date, there no evidence to suggest a direct link between tinnitus and COVID-19. However, we know that tinnitus is linked with stress. There's no doubt that pandemic living is stressful, so it could be that tinnitus is more common in the era of COVID-19.

Q: When should you see a doctor about ringing in the ears?

Dr. Slominski: Tinnitus is rarely a sign of a serious medical problem, but it's always a good idea to get it checked out. Your doctor should order a baseline hearing test and make sure there's no wax in the ear that's obstructing your hearing. Depending on the results of the hearing test, tinnitus may need treatment.

Q: What can people do to manage tinnitus?

Dr. Slominski: There's no cure for tinnitus because the condition is actually a symptom of something else. The good news: treatments are available. Management depends on the degree of the problem and the underlying cause. If you have hearing loss, you can amplify external noises with a hearing aid, which may help make tinnitus less noticeable. Even simple lifestyle changes that draw your attention away from the ringing — things like playing background music, reducing stress and focusing on other noises — can help mask tinnitus. The idea is to assign the ringing or buzzing noise to your subconscious so you don't focus on it. The most effective strategies seem to be a combination of sound-generating devices and behavioral strategies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Living With Tinnitus

Most people have experienced ringing in their ears at one time or another. However, severe tinnitus can have a significant negative impact on your quality of life. As with all things, your overall health can also affect how you experience tinnitus.

"If you're experiencing a ringing or buzzing in your ears, it's a good idea to take care of yourself. Be aware of your diet, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, manage your stress level and try to divert your attention to things you enjoy," Dr. Slominski says.

Most important, get checked out by your ear, nose and throat physician and an audiologist. It’s always good to be proactive, particularly when it comes to your health and hearing.

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To find a doctor or audiologist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Karrie Slominski is an audiologist who sees patients at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Categories: FeelWell