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Tinnitus: What is that ringing in my ear? Can it be made better?

Katelyn Patras

Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing noise, most often ringing, that does not come from any external source. Some may complain of buzzing, roaring or a hissing sound. These sounds are heard by the affected individual, but not by others. It is regarded as a symptom rather than a disorder and is quite common. As many as 50 million Americans report tinnitus. The sound varies from individual to individual in terms of its loudness, tonal quality and how often it is present. Tinnitus reportedly occurs in 27% of people between 65 and 84 years of age.

It is generally associated with hearing loss and occurs often in people exposed to loud noise. Certain medications and a variety hearing disorders are associated with the presence of tinnitus. We are not completely sure what the underlying anatomic base is. Most believe the problem is related to deterioration of microscopic hair cells in the inner ear and an interaction between the auditory part of the brain and the inner ear.

There is no known cure but there are approaches that have been effective in managing the annoyance. A large number of hearing aid wearers report significant improvement while wearing their hearing aids. Some use a tinnitus masker, which may be part of a hearing aid. This special circuitry can make the tinnitus imperceptible or nearly so. Other approaches may use techniques like counseling and habituation therapy.