Tinnitis is not a disease but rather is a symptom of a problem with the body’s auditory (sound) system that exists in one or both the ears, in the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain, or in parts of the brain that deal with sounds. Tinnitis has been described as a ringing in one or both ears, as a roaring or rushing sound, as a clicking or a hissing sound, or as a buzzing sound. The sound can range from being barely heard to loud enough to disrupt sleep, to impede activities of daily living, and can be debilitating.
Tinnitis lasting 3 or more months affects about 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. each year. Tinnitis may result from many different factors such as hearing loss (a good reason to wear appropriate hearing protection at all times recommended such as when shooting a gun, being around noisy machinery, when attending loud sports events such as NASCAR and loud venues such as rock concerts, when mowing the lawn with a gas mower, etc.), high blood pressure, or due to the use of certain medications. Many military personnel who served in active combat zones subject to loud explosions and other sharp and loud noises developed tinnitis, which is one of the most common service-related traumas suffered by soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Unless you are a soldier returning from a war zone, diagnosing the cause or causes of tinnitis may be difficult (for some people, tinnitis begins for no obvious reason). Although there is no definitive explanation for what happens to the auditory system to cause tinnitis, it is known that the intricate and delicate networks of nerves that process sounds are out of whack in such a way that people hear sounds that are not present.
There is presently no cure for tinnitis. However, there are treatment options to help people cope with tinnitis. For people with both hearing loss and tinnitis, hearing aids may help. The annoying sounds of tinnitis may be treated with in-the-ear electronic devices that generate a sound to mask the tinnitis. Tinnitis sufferers may use sound generators at sleep time to help them fall and stay asleep. Certain antidepressants and antianxiety medications may be prescribed to help people deal with tinnitis and to address sleep disturbances caused by tinnitis. Treatments may be used in combination and modified over time in an attempt to minimize the discomfort caused by tinnitis.
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