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Tinnitus (cont.)

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a ringing, buzzing, hissing, swishing, clicking, or other type of noise that seems to originate in the ear or head. Most of us will experience tinnitus or sounds in the ears at some time or another. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 10% of adults in the U.S. - nearly 25 million Americans - have experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year. Tinnitus is identified more frequently in white individuals, and the prevalence of tinnitus in the U.S. is almost twice as frequent in the South as in the Northeast.

Tinnitus can be extremely disturbing to people who have it. In many cases it is not a serious problem, but rather a nuisance that may go away. However, some people with tinnitus may require medical or surgical treatment. Sixteen million Americans seek medical treatment each year for tinnitus, and about one-quarter of those experience it so severely it interferes with their daily activities.

Tinnitus can arise in any of the four sections of the hearing system: the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear, and the brain. Some tinnitus or "head noise" is normal. A number of techniques and treatments may be of help, depending on the cause.

  • Some of the most common include a sound of crickets or roaring, buzzing, hissing, whistling, and high-pitched ringing in the ears.
  • Other types of tinnitus include a clicking or pulsatile tinnitus (the noise accompanies your heartbeat).
  • The most common type of tinnitus is known as subjective tinnitus, meaning that you hear a sound but it cannot be heard by others.
  • A much more uncommon sort is called objective tinnitus, meaning your doctor may sometimes actually hear a sound when he or she is carefully listening for it.

What are symptoms of tinnitus?

  • With tinnitus, you hear a noise that no one around you hears.
  • This noise is usually a buzzing or ringing type sound, but it may be a clicking or rushing sound that goes along with your heartbeat.
  • The sound is sometimes accompanied by hearing loss and dizziness in a condition known as Meniere's disease.

What are the structures of the ear?

Picture of the structures of the outer, middle, and inner ear
Picture of the structures of the outer, middle, and inner ear
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/25/2015

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Inner Ear, Tinnitus »

Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the head or the ears.

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