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Tinnitus is a medical condition which is characterized by buzzing, clicking, ringing, whistling, or whining noises in the ear, despite the lack of external stimuli which might create these sounds. In addition to being irritating, this condition may also be a symptom of more troubling underlying problems such as tumors, infections, or hearing loss. Patients who experience symptoms should consult a doctor to determine what the cause is and receive treatment. A doctor may not be able to make the sound go away, but he or she can help patients manage it.
This condition can affect one or both ears, depending on the cause. The word comes from the Latin tinnitus, or “ringing.” Humans have reported cases of ringing ears for thousands of years, and a number of treatments from the mundane to the bizarre have been attempted. Because the causes of this condition are so varied, has also historically been challenging to treat, and this remains true today.
There are technically two types of tinnitus. The vast majority of cases are subjective, meaning that only the patient can hear the sounds. In other instances, known as objective tinnitus, a doctor can hear the noises as well when he or she examines the patient. The two types have different underlying causes, and while the objective type is sometimes treatable, the subjective type is much more intractable.
Common causes of tinnitus include head trauma, damage to the nerve endings in the ear, blocked canals, ear infections, and the use of certain prescription drugs. When the cause is something like a tumor or earwax obstruction, the condition can be treated by removing the offending item. If the cause is medication, a doctor may recommend a change of medication, or change the dosage. Things like nerve damage are not as easy to treat, unfortunately. A case of tinnitus may also be caused by temporary damage to the ears, such as exposure to an explosion or similar loud noise, in which case the symptoms will subside after a period of time.
When a patient complains of tinnitus, a doctor will usually perform screening to eliminate causes such as systemic infections, just to be rule out any potential causes not seen on physical examination. In a case where a doctor cannot eliminate the condition, the patient can learn how to manage it. Many patients use masking devices such as fans or ear implants to create pleasant white noise. Patients are also encouraged to manage their stress well, since stress appears to be linked to recurrent tinnitus.