When folksinger Phil Ochs crooned, “What’s that I hear now ringing in my ear/ I’ve heard that sound before./ What’s that I hear now ringing in my ear/I hear it more and more,” he wasn’t describing tinnitus, but he could have been. (He was describing the push for civil rights.)
Tinnitus is a continuous or pulsating sound only you can hear; it’s often described as ringing, hissing, static, screeching, whooshing, roaring or buzzing. Research indicates that tinnitus affects around 10 percent of adults, and of those, 25 percent have had it for 15-plus years. For most it’s temporary, but for others it produces a din that interferes with thinking, sleeping and even conversation.
What causes it? It may come from overexposure to loud noises/hearing loss; inner-ear issues; wax buildup; head or neck trauma; temporomandibular joint disorder; sinus problems; taking prescription or illicit drugs; high blood pressure; or thyroid disease.
Only around half of sufferers mention it to their doctor, and they’re often told medication and herbal supplements may be helpful. However, the American Academy of Otolaryngology guidelines explicitly state that cognitive behavioral therapy and hearing aids are the most effective approaches available. And newer treatment options are being actively studied.
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If you’re plagued by persistent in-your-head white noise, ask your doctor about treatment options and/or a referral to a tinnitus specialist. The Hearing Loss Association of America lists organizations that can help you cover the cost of a hearing aid, and www.findcbt.org will help you locate a therapist in your area.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.