Tinnitus management: causes, symptoms and treatment

Mr Joseph Wasson, ENT Consultant

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 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.

Common causes for tinnitus include exposure to loud noises, 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 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 says: “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 explanation, 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 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 Awareness Week

In 2020, Tinnitus Awareness Week took place between 3-9 February, and focused on raising awareness for the need of ongoing research into causes and treatment for tinnitus.

If you want to help support people with tinnitus, find out more at the British Tinnitus Association.

You can donate and fundraise to the Tinnitus Research Appeal to help find a cure for tinnitus.

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 calling our Private Patient Team on 01580 363158.

Published on 11 September 2020