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Tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears, affects an estimated 35 - 50 million Americans. The sound can be almost unnoticeable, or it can be a roaring siren that leaves the sufferer with frazzled nerves, no rest, and a major case of depression. Seven to ten million Americans have bad enough Tinnitus to seek medical attention.

The sound itself, while usually a ringing, has been described by some as a crunching, ticking, humming, or thumping.

If you, or someone close to you has these symptoms, you should see your doctor at once. It may simply be an excessive build-up of ear wax that the doctor can clear away (do not try to do this with cotton swabs). It may be Tinnitus. Or, it may be a symptom of something far more serious, like Meniers Disease or even a brain tumor.

In some cases there is a physical reason creating the noise the sufferer hears. This is called Objective Tinnitus. In these cases, the doctor, on examination, can also hear the noise. Usually, if this is the case, the cause of the noise can be removed through surgery.

The vast majority of patients, however, have Subjective Tinnitus. In these cases there is no obvious physical reason for the noise, the doctor cannot hear it, and there is no known cure.

Some of the causes of Subjective Tinnitus can be exposure to loud noise, from years of concerts and partying to a single shock, or trauma to the head or neck, a virus or infection, or high blood pressure.

While there is no known cure, there are treatments that can provide some level of relief.

Herbal remedies include Feverfew and Gingko. These are available over the counter at most health food stores. Start experimenting with a small dosage and gradually increase it as needed. It may take several weeks to notice any results. Always check with your doctor before you do that.

A Tinnitus masker is a small device that looks like a hearing aid. Rather than amplify sound, however, it creates a noise that mimics the sound that the Tinnitus sufferer hears. This trains the brain to ignore the Tinnitus sounds, and listen around them. The devices, however, are very expensive, and most insurance plans will not cover them.

Using the theory of the masker, Tinnitus sufferers can create their own program of "sound therapy." Using a variety of white noise generators, such as table-top fountains or nature recordings (seashores, crickets, rain storms), as background, one can find some relief from the sounds of Tinnitus.

In summary, if you suffer from constant ringing or other unexplained noises in your ears, seek medical attention immediately. It may be nothing, it may be something very serious, or it could be Tinnitus. While most Tinnitus cases cannot be cured, many sufferers have been able to find some relief through herbal remedies and noise therapy.