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General Medical Questions
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Question : I have this constant sound in my right ear, almost like a diesel truck running. It’s not painful, but it is irritating. What could it be — and what doctor should I visit for this?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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January 13, 2012
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A:

It’s called tinnitus. It’s a sound you hear in your ears or head that no one else can hear. It can sound like almost any sound you have ever heard. People often describe it as buzzing, humming, ringing, static, crickets, or white noise. It can be soft or loud, occasional or constant, unchanging or ever changing.

An ear, nose and throat doctor (an otolaryngologist) is the type of doctor that most often evaluates constant tinnitus.

Tinnitus is very common. About 15% of the population has it. It happens more often in the older age groups. But the actual cause of tinnitus isn’t known. There is no way a doctor can measure tinnitus.

Many treatments have come and gone for tinnitus. And many are used over and over. Herbal supplements, vitamin supplements, dietary restrictions and additions, electronic masking devices, holistic and spiritualistic approaches, and many others too numerous to mention here have been or continue to be touted as the new cure. To date, none of them have shown any benefit over a placebo in a scientific study.

But there are some things that can make tinnitus worse. These include stress, fatigue, anxiety, and being exposed to loud noise. Anything that lessens one of these makes the tinnitus better.

Also, you are much more likely to be bothered by tinnitus when a room is very quiet. But this doesn’t make the tinnitus worse.

Future research focusing on ways to objectively measure tinnitus holds the key to understanding and eventually curing this common problem.

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