Even if you’re not familiar with the word tinnitus, you may have experienced the condition before. It’s the sensation of hearing a ringing or buzzing noise in one or both ears, even when there is no corresponding sound occurring in real life. An estimated 20% of people at least periodically experience tinnitus. In severe cases, it happens frequently and can disrupt sleep and cause other severe discomfort and annoyance.

Tinnitus has a wide range of causes, and in some case, the specific cause is never discovered. It can be the result of hearing loss, in particular, noise-induced hearing loss. Other people develop tinnitus due to the buildup of earwax that blocks the ear canal and may even irritate the eardrum. It can also be caused by health problems seemingly unrelated to the ears, like high or low blood pressure, allergies, and tumors. Some types of medication may also cause tinnitus.

Many people who have tinnitus experience it as a mild annoyance. The ringing sound in their ears may start at any point, but usually is not perceived as very loud in volume and goes away fairly quickly on its own. For these types of people, treatment is usually not necessary. For others, tinnitus may be frequent, loud, and very disruptive. In these cases, people can turn to a wide range of methods to treat and cope with tinnitus.

Some tinnitus treatments focus on fixing the underlying health condition causing tinnitus. For example, removing an earwax blockage, treating high blood pressure, or switching medications may help. Other people use white noise methods to mask tinnitus. Some types of hearing aids even have programs designed to play tonal music that mimics the frequencies of tinnitus to train your brain to relax and not hear these noises.

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