Tinnitus is often described as “a ringing in the ears,” but if you’ve recently started hearing whooshing, roaring or chirping sounds (among others) that no one else seems to hear, this could also indicate tinnitus.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), tinnitus is actually a very common experience –  most people have mild ringing in their ears at some point, even if they don’t realize it’s tinnitus. But ASHA says that up to 15 percent of adults have tinnitus that needs to be addressed by a hearing healthcare professional. Here’s some more information on tinnitus and how you can keep it from interfering with senior independence and an active lifestyle:

What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus isn’t a disease – it’s a symptom of something else. Tinnitus can be a symptom of many things: hearing loss in general, migraines, exposure to loud noises, anemia, too much ear wax, Ménière’s disease, jaw misalignment, head injury and, rarely, benign tumors on the auditory nerve.

When to visit a healthcare professional
If you have tinnitus that lasts a long time, interrupts your sleep, disrupts family relationships or is sharp and painful, the American Tinnitus Association (ATA) recommends visiting an otologist, otolaryngologist or audiologist because they can help you determine the underlying cause of your tinnitus. Though tinnitus does not have a cure, there are many ways to manage it – unique to the cause of your tinnitus – so you can enjoy trips to the mall with your friends or a nice dinner with your spouse without having constant sound disrupt your good time.

When you visit an audiologist or another healthcare professional, they do not have any devices to measure tinnitus. Rather, they depend on your self-reported answers to questions about your experience. Here are some questions from ASHA that an ear specialist might ask to help you understand and manage your tinnitus:

1. Is the sound constant?
2. Does it happen during a particular time of day?
3. Does the sound worsen during a particular time of day?
4. Does the sound have a high or low pitch?
5. How would you describe the sound?
6. Does it affect your family life, work, sleep or ability to focus?
7. Are there things that make it worse, like medicine or caffeine?
8. Does the volume or pitch change?

How can I manage my tinnitus?
If tinnitus occurs in conjunction with hearing loss, hearing aids or other hearing loss solutions can help relieve your tinnitus. Other people like to use tinnitus maskers, which are similar to hearing aids but produce white noise to cover the tinnitus sounds you regularly hear. Some people find relief with biofeedback – a relaxation technique – or sound therapy. ASHA says that some people find relief from steady background noise, especially at night, like fans, indoor waterfalls or fish tanks. The ATA is a great resource for advice on techniques to manage your tinnitus.

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