If you can hear a noise in your ears, such as ringing, buzzing or whistling, you may be experiencing tinnitus. When there is no identifiable external cause for the noise that you can hear, and there isn't a psychological cause, it is called tinnitus. Tinnitus can be a short-term problem, which might be caused by an underlying medical problem or lifestyle factor. 

It can also be a chronic problem, which often goes hand-in-hand with hearing loss. 50 to 60 million people in the United States might have tinnitus, and it is especially common in older people.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the name used for a sound that can be heard but has no external source. It's a common condition and isn't usually linked to any serious health conditions. It can sound like many things, including buzzing, ringing, whistling, whooshing, humming, hissing, throbbing or sometimes even music or singing. If you have tinnitus, you might hear the sound in one ear or in both ears. It can be something that you experience all the time, or it might come and go or be more noticeable at certain times, such as when you are trying to sleep.

If tinnitus is bothering you, it's getting worse or you have tinnitus that beats in time with your pulse, you should see a hearing health professional.

What causes tinnitus?

The cause of tinnitus isn't always clear, but there are several factors that could be causing it. Tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss, which is why many people experience it as they begin to lose their hearing as they age. Some other causes of hearing loss might include a condition called Meniere's disease, diabetes, thyroid disorders, multiple sclerosis, anxiety or depression.

When you see a hearing professional about tinnitus, they will carry out an assessment to determine what might be causing your tinnitus. They can examine your ears, ask about your medical history, discuss your symptoms and conduct a hearing test to check for hearing loss.

Can tinnitus be cured?

Tinnitus with a temporary underlying medical cause could be cured with the right treatment or changes. For example, if a medication is causing tinnitus, changing or stopping the medication could resolve the issue. However, there is no cure for chronic tinnitus. Fortunately, it can still be treated and managed in multiple ways so that people with chronic tinnitus can learn to cope with it.

Treatments for tinnitus include hearing aids, which can feature sound masking to help cover the tinnitus, wearable sound masking devices, sound machines and tinnitus retraining therapy. If you have tinnitus, you can discuss all these options with your hearing care provider. They can help you to find the right treatment to help you manage your tinnitus and lower the stress and anxiety that it can cause. Tinnitus may be worsened by anxiety and stress, so it's helpful to learn how to live with it.

If you think that you have tinnitus, see a hearing health professional to talk to them about your experience.