Ringing to roaring- the causes & treatment of Tinnitus
What is tinnitus?
- Tinnitus is when a person hears sound or noise that is not actually present.
- Tinnitus can be a symptom of various conditions- it is not a diagnosis.
- It can involve one or both ears
- Different types of sound can occur- ringing, whistling, buzzing, hissing, pulsing, humming or roaring.
- It is usually caused by a fault somewhere within your own ears, or the nerves and parts of the brain that control your hearing.
- It can come and go, or it may be continuous, and is often worse in a quiet environment, for example at bedtime.
How common is tinnitus?
- It’s quite common- up to 1 in 10 people may have it to some degree, though it’s mild in many cases.
- Around 1 in 100 people have tinnitus bad enough to affect their quality of life
What causes tinnitus?
There is not always an obvious cause, but it can be associated with the following conditions:
- Age related hearing loss
- Noise exposure (e.g. over a long time in a noisy workplace)
- Meniere’s disease (a condition involving attacks of tinnitus, dizziness & hearing loss)
- Ear infections
- A build-up of wax in the ears
- Inner ear conditions
- Thyroid conditions
- Head injuries
- Acoustic neuroma (a benign tumour on the acoustic or “hearing” nerve- this tends to cause tinnitus in one ear only)
- A side effect of medication, such as aspirin
Do I need any tests for tinnitus?
- Usually, your doctor will have a look inside your ears with an auroscope, to check for wax, infection or other abnormalities.
- You may be advised to have a hearing test.
- Less commonly, blood tests or a brain scan may be needed, particularly if onset has been sudden, if the tinnitus is one-sided, or if there are new symptoms such as headache or dizziness.
Does tinnitus get better by itself ?
Yes, in many cases it will get better over time, without any treatment.
In some people it is more continuous and problematic. It can lead to anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Is there any treatment for tinnitus?
If there is an underlying cause, such as an ear infection, ear wax etc, treating that condition may resolve the problem. If there is no treatable cause, management may involve a variety of options:
- Simple measures such as having a radio switched on in the background, or leaving a window open, to create gentle background noise.
- A sound generator can offer helpful treatment for tinnitus- this is a device like a hearing aid which makes distracting and more pleasant sounds.
- A hearing aid may help, if there is also hearing loss, as it will increase perception of “normal” sounds.
- Antidepressants may help tinnitus where anxiety or depression are also present. Occasionally cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) via a psychologist may also be useful.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy may be undertaken by specialist clinics- it may involve a combination of wearing a sound generator and counselling.
If you’re concerned about tinnitus, or wish to know more about treatment for tinnitus, speak to your GP or an ENT specialist.