What You Should Do If You Have A Chronic Ringing In Your Ear

For up to 60 million Americans, the noise never really stops for good. Those suffering from tinnitus "hear" sounds that have no external source, which may sound like ringing, whistling, buzzing, chirping, or any number of other noises. The noise may be loud or soft, intermittent, or constant, and a minor irritation or debilitating problem (via Harvard Medical School). It's especially common in adults over the age of 55.

"Many may have problems sleeping, relaxing or reading a book because the tinnitus is always there," audiologist Dr. Sharon Sandridge told the Cleveland Clinic. "It can cause stress, anxiety and even depression."

While experts have a fairly good idea of what can cause tinnitus — exposure to loud noises, various medications, impacted ear wax, and certain medical conditions — sometimes there's no apparent underlying cause. Unfortunately, there is also no treatment that has proven to be more effective than a placebo in curing tinnitus.

There is still hope for those dealing with this condition, though. While tinnitus can't be cured, there are some options for managing it that have proven effective for many people. First, it's important to see a doctor to determine whether the tinnitus may be caused by an underlying medical condition, which may require its own treatment.

White noise can help mask tinnitus

"Before you pursue any non-medical options for tinnitus management, you need to see a doctor to rule out any underlying problem requiring medical or surgical intervention," Dr. Sandridge told the Cleveland Clinic. "The next step is to have a hearing test done by an audiologist to determine if hearing loss could be the cause as well as to determine if you can benefit from sound therapy."

If underlying health conditions have been ruled out, there are several management options available. White noise, and "masking" machines, which produce low-level background noises such as falling rain or crashing ocean waves, can effectively distract the brain from focusing on the ringing. "In this case, the tinnitus is not gone, but you no longer pay attention to it unless you focus on it," Dr. Sandridge continued. "Our goal is to get you to the point where you're basically tuning the tinnitus out."

Counseling options, such as cognitive behavior therapy, can also offer coping mechanisms that can help the tinnitus become less of a problem.