tinnitus

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

tinnitus

tinnitus, the hearing of sounds in the absence of any external sound, also known as ringing in the ears. The sounds may be perceived as hissing, whistling, buzzing, swooshing, roaring, or clicking in addition to ringing; in rare cases indistinct voices or music may be heard. The sounds may be high or low, may be loud or quiet, and may come and go or be present all the time; they may be heard in one ear or both. Tinnitus, which is often worse when things are quiet, is a symptom of a variety of physiological conditions and is also associated with taking certain medications. Most typically it is an auditory and neurological response to hearing loss cause by loud noise, but there are many other causes, and in rare cases it may be caused by sounds produced by the circulation of the blood in the blood vessels or another physiological process.

Tinnitus usually is not a symptom of something serious, but many people find the sounds bothersome, and it may produce fatigue, stress, problems with sleep, concentration, or memory, and depression or anxiety, becoming debilitating for some sufferers. Tinnitus may be treatable if it is caused by an underlying condition that can be corrected or a medication for which there is an alternative, but there is no effective drug treatment for tinnitus itself. In other cases, a hearing aid or a machine or masking device that produces white noise may be helpful. Counseling with cognitive behavioral therapy to accustom patients to the sounds and teach coping techniques can reduce the stress and the associated problems some people experience.

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