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Tinnitus (Ringing in the Ears)

Tinnitus is characterized by ringing sounds in the ear. Nearly 36 million of Americans suffer from this problem, which can be triggered by a wide range of underlying conditions, including exposure to loud noise, middle ear injuries, a hole in the eardrum, earwax, cardiovascular disorders, allergies, high or low blood pressure, a tumor, diabetes, injuries to the head or neck, or certain medicines. Tinnitus may be periodic or continuous, and it may vary in pitch from a low roar to a high squeal or whine. It may be present in one or both ears. Millions of people with tinnitus are so severely afflicted they cannot lead normal lives.

If your tinnitus is bothersome, it is important to see an ear specialist (otolaryngologist). This physician will attempt to determine the cause, then treat it and alleviate the noise. In some cases, noise suppression is an effective strategy. This may include masking devices which are worn in the ear like a hearing aid and produce a low-level white noise that muffles the tinnitus. Some physicians suggest listening to FM music at low-volume, or white noise machines with pillow speakers to help you sleep. Concentration and relaxation exercises may also help to reduce the intensity of the problem in some patients by controlling muscle groups and circulation throughout the body. Occasionally, medicines may help reduce the severity of the symptoms.

Tinnitus in Children

Tinnitus in children is rare, though when it occurs the child will not typically complain about it since they consider the noise in their ear to be quite normal. Ongoing tinnitus can be annoying and distracting, however, and in severe cases can cause psychological distress and interfere with your child’s ability to lead a normal life. The good news is that most children with tinnitus seem to eventually outgrow it.

If you suspect your child has tinnitus, make an appointment with your family physician or pediatrician. In most cases, no underlying problem will be found, and simply having the condition and ways to manage it carefully explained to the child by a medical professional will be helpful. In more serious cases, a referral to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) may be necessary. Depending on the nature of the tinnitus, the doctor may order a comprehensive hearing tests.

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