Tinnitus, frequently referred to as a ringing in the ears, is a common affliction that affects up to 50 million Americans. The phantom noise may appear in one or both ears, and is variously described as a whistling, buzzing, whooshing, roaring or hissing sound. It is not a condition, but a symptom of another disease.

Most cases of tinnitus are subjective in nature, meaning only the affected patient can hear the sounds. But occasionally, another individual – often a doctor, while examining the individual – will be able to pick up the noise. This rare form is called objective tinnitus.

Coping With Tinnitus

While some people experience tinnitus only occasionally and consider it a minor nuisance, others find it a full-time distraction that can negatively impact their quality of life. Because there is currently no cure for tinnitus, these people must deal with coping strategies in order to live with the constant noise.

Treatment focuses first on the underlying condition responsible for your tinnitus symptoms. Causes vary widely and include hearing loss, ear infections, noise exposure, impacted earwax, hypertension, heart conditions, Meniere’s disease, TMJ disorders, thyroid diseases, ototoxic medications, head and neck injuries, and tumors. If the cause of your tinnitus can be treated, the symptoms may disappear.

More likely, you’ll need to rely on noise suppression therapy in order to train your brain to block the annoying background noise associated with tinnitus. Masking techniques rely on white noise machines or common household items such as fans, air conditioners and humidifiers. Another option is tinnitus retraining devices, which use steady, alternating tones to distract your brain.