Nearly a third of people experience tinnitus during their lives, but research is still needed into its causes and treatment. Our guide to tinnitus includes help and expert advice on diagnosing and managing the symptoms.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a technical term for hearing noises which aren’t caused by an outside source. You may describe it as a “ringing in your ears”. Tinnitus is a symptom, rather than a condition in itself.
Mr Joseph Wasson, Consultant Ear Nose and Throat Surgeon, said:
"Tinnitus is the perception of an audible noise in the absence of an external stimulus. The majority of tinnitus suffered is subjective, whereby only the sufferer hears and experiences noise; but occasionally tinnitus may also be objective, which can be heard by others. 30% of individuals will experience tinnitus at some point in their lives, but it is persistent in 10-15% of the population. The prevalence of troublesome tinnitus increases with age and affects both sexes equally."
Do I have tinnitus symptoms?
Tinnitus symptoms vary from person to person. People with tinnitus may experience:
- A pounding, roaring or hissing noise (or other noises)
- Hearing these noises in one or both ears at a time
- Tinnitus symptoms all the time, or every now and again
- Noises that are soft, or loud enough to distract you
In rare cases, tinnitus can be heard by other people. Temporary tinnitus symptoms are experienced by around 30% of people, but around 10-15% of people have chronic tinnitus.
If you have tinnitus symptoms, read on to find out about tinnitus treatment and management.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus causes can include a wide range of underlying conditions, injuries and disorders.
Mr Henry Sharp, one of our Consultant ENT Surgeons explains: “If you have tinnitus, the first thing we do at Benenden Hospital is to carefully examine your ears using a microscope and to carry out a hearing test, to see if you’ve got any hearing loss associated with it. Doing this will help us to see whether there are any readily treatable causes for your tinnitus.
“Tinnitus is very common and there are lots of different causes - we often don’t find a root cause however, and the management of the condition may just be to optimally treat the actual symptom, which we can advise you about. Tinnitus is usually benign and occurs in both ears, but if it is only in one ear it is advisable to visit our hospital in order to exclude any unusual causes.”
Common causes for tinnitus include exposure to loud noises in your job, age-related hearing loss, and earwax. Tinnitus is often caused by the tiny hairs inside your inner ear being bent, broken or damaged.
Less common causes for tinnitus include injuries to the head or neck, benign tumours and muscle spasms, and, in rare cases, problems related to blood flow and pressure in your blood vessels.
Treatable ear conditions, like Meniere’s disease and acoustic neuroma, may also cause tinnitus.
Medication of certain types (particularly high doses) can also bring on tinnitus, but this usually stops once you stop using them. Some types of antibiotics and antidepressants may also make tinnitus worse.
In some cases of tinnitus, it’s impossible to find a definitive cause.
Is there a cure for tinnitus?
No, but researchers are working on finding one. There are many obstacles to finding a tinnitus cure – from a lack of funding and cross-disciplinary research, to the ambiguity of its cause and definition.
However, if tinnitus is being caused by a treatable injury or a certain type of medication, tinnitus can effectively be ‘cured’ by treating that injury or stopping or lowering the dose of that medication.
Is tinnitus treatable?
Mr Wasson goes on to say: “Treatment for tinnitus includes the diagnosis or exclusion of treatable ear conditions that can be associated with tinnitus (for example Meniere’s disease and acoustic neuroma). Once treatable pathology has been treated or excluded, the three pillars of tinnitus management are rehabilitation of hearing loss, sound therapy and intervention to reduce tinnitus associated distress.”
Tinnitus is treatable, and it’s possible to create a tinnitus management plan tailored to your needs. Some tinnitus treatments focus on relaxation or distraction, rather than removing tinnitus entirely.
Common tinnitus management methods and treatments can include:
- Relaxation activities, such as yoga and deep breathing exercises
- Support groups with other people with tinnitus, or counselling and CBT
- Sound therapy – listening to soft sounds or music (avoiding silence)
- If your tinnitus is caused by a treatable condition, addressing it
How can I avoid developing tinnitus symptoms?
Tinnitus may present itself without any cause, but here are some precautions to keep in mind:
- Avoid loud noises. Exposure to loud sounds (from music gigs to industrial environments and machinery) can be a common cause of tinnitus. Hearing loss can be irreversible
- If you need to be around loud noises, ensure you wear suitable ear protection
- Listen to music on headphones at a sensible level – many devices offer a warning
- Look after your cardiovascular system (blood vessels) with a healthy lifestyle
Tinnitus treatment at Benenden Hospital
At Benenden Hospital, we have experienced Ear Nose and Throat Consultants who can help you manage your tinnitus. Your Consultant will talk to you about your medical history before carrying out an examination and hearing test to grade the severity of your tinnitus and diagnose any treatable ear conditions. If required, further investigations can be arranged to help tailor your management plan.
If you need help with tinnitus management or symptoms, book an appointment today with our dedicated ENT service by completing our online booking form or by contacting our Private Patient Team via Livechat or on 01580 363 158.
Published on 07 February 2022