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What is tinnitus?

The last time I came down with a bad cold, I got a ringing in my ear that wouldn't go away. I've been researching, and it seems like I have tinnitus. Should I go to a doctor? What will happen if I ignore the tinnitus?
Tinnitus can have many different causes, and the specialists involved in the diagnosis and treatment include internists, neurologists, ear-nose-throat specialists, and others. Tinnitus is the sensation or perception of a ringing, hissing, buzzing, or roaring sound in one's ears (one or both). The quality, timing, and severity can be variable. Tinnitus can be irritating but it typically is not a serious problem. It is typically caused by damage to the tiny hairs on auditory cells within the inner ear resulting in an abnormal signal being sent to the brain. Such irritation could happen from an upper respiratory infection. Some times tinnitus can be from problems not related to hearing. With an initial diagnosis of tinnitus, it is important for anyone to be evaluated to ensure that there isn't another, more serious problem since further specialized tests may be recommended. Potential tests include a hearing test, MRI, or CT scan depending on the history and physical examination. Typically the treatment of tinnitus involves dealing with the underlying cause. It is not clear to prognosticate what will happen if you ignore your tinnitus since an initial evaluation to rule out other significant causes first is important. Many Americans live with chronic tinnitus as well and manage with various therapies (including medication, behavioral therapies, hearing correction, etc). The impact of tinnitus on everyday life varies, often depending upon the severity of the noise. Tinnitus from an upper respiratory infection would likely self-resolve but seeing a specialist to rule out things such as hearing dysfunction is important. It is not possible to come to a diagnosis without examining the patient. The strong recommendation is therefore to get a referral to an ear-nose-throat specialist and get evaluated in person.
This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.

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