Tinnitus: Care Instructions

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Many people have some ringing sounds in their ears once in a while. You may hear a roar, a hiss, a tinkle, or a buzz. The sound usually lasts only a few minutes. Ringing in the ears that doesn't get better or go away is called tinnitus.

Tinnitus is usually caused by long-term exposure to loud noise. This damages the nerves in the inner ear. It can occur with all types of hearing loss. It may be a symptom of almost any ear problem.

Tinnitus may be caused by a buildup of earwax. Or it may be caused by ear infections or certain medicines (especially antibiotics or large amounts of aspirin). You can also hear noises in your ears because of an injury to the ears or a medical condition.

You may need tests to evaluate your hearing and to find causes of long-lasting tinnitus.

Your doctor may suggest one or more treatments to help you cope with it. You can also do things at home to help reduce symptoms.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. Nicotine reduces blood flow to the ear and makes tinnitus worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether to stop taking aspirin and similar products such as ibuprofen or naproxen.
  • Get exercise often. It can improve blood flow to the ear.

Ways to cope with noise

Some tinnitus may last a long time. To cope with noise, try to:

  • Avoid noises that you think caused your tinnitus. If you can't avoid loud noises, wear earplugs or earmuffs.
  • Ignore the sound by paying attention to other things.
  • Relax using biofeedback, meditation, or yoga. Feeling stressed and being tired can make tinnitus worse.
  • Play music or white noise to help you sleep. Background noise may cover up the noise that you hear in your ears. You can buy a machine that makes soothing sounds, such as ocean waves.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You develop other symptoms. These may include hearing loss (or worse hearing loss), balance problems, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your tinnitus moves from both ears to one ear.
  • Your hearing loss gets worse within 1 day after an ear injury.
  • Your tinnitus or hearing loss does not get better within 1 week after an ear injury.
  • Your tinnitus bothers you enough that you want to take medicines to help you cope with it.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.