What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the term used to describe noises in the ear or head which have no external explanation.

What people with tinnitus may experience varies from person to person. Some people only hear one noise, others hear several different sounds. The tinnitus may be heard in one ear or both ears.  The noises may be heard continuously or they may come and go or be worse when the person is feeling stressed.

The noises that people have described include ringing, buzzing, bells, music, whistling, humming, roaring and lots of others.  Some people experience pulsatile tinnitus – where the noise follows the same rate as the person’s heartbeat.

What causes tinnitus?

The exact cause of tinnitus is unknown, but it is often associated with some form of hearing loss.

Long exposure to loud noise (e.g. after a night out at a club playing very loud music) can leave a “ringing in the ears” or other tinnitus noise. This may be temporary and go away after a day or so, but repeated or constant exposure to loud noise can damage hearing irreparably.  So tinnitus after exposure to loud noise should be taken as a warning sign.

What should I do if I think I have tinnitus?

If you think you may have tinnitus, it may be a good idea to see your doctor in case something treatable is causing it. 

Treating tinnitus

If there is an underlying cause for the tinnitus then this will need to be treated. If there is no apparent cause that can be treated, then the following ideas may be helpful:

Wearing hearing aids: Many people who have tinnitus also have a hearing loss. Wearing a hearing aid may make it easier for some people to hear the sounds they need to hear by making them louder. People are less likely to notice their tinnitus if they are better able to hear other people talking or listen to music.

Maskers: These are small devices that use sound to make tinnitus less noticeable. Maskers do not make tinnitus go away, but they create external noise to distract the person and so make the noise(s) seem less noticeable.

An ordinary radio, TV or CD/tape player can act in the same way as a masker – providing external noise to distract the person from their tinnitus

Medicine: Some medicines may ease tinnitus. If your doctor prescribes medicine to treat your tinnitus, he or she can tell you whether the medicine has any side effects.

Tinnitus retraining therapy: This treatment uses a combination of counselling and maskers. The therapist can help you learn how to manage your tinnitus better. After undergoing tinnitus retraining therapy some people find they have learnt how to avoid thinking about their tinnitus.

Tinnitus support groups. Some people with tinnitus find that talking with a others with tinnitus can be helpful.

Relaxing. Learning how to relax is very helpful if the noise in your ears frustrates you. Stress makes tinnitus seem worse. By relaxing, you have a chance to rest and better deal with the sound.

 (Source: www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/noiseinear.asp )

Some people with tinnitus have tried some of the above strategies and also tried other strategies.  Here are some of the strategies that people found helped their tinnitus:

1. It can be helpful to be careful about the foods you eat.  For example, some people find that coffee and alcohol make their tinnitus worse.

2. Some sufferers have a whole range of sounds, some of which are permanent and some of which ebb and flow. Other noises come periodically. Reactions vary from great distress or simply frustration because all or some of the noises are disabling in that they make it impossible to hear.

One person said, “I believe that the best thing is to learn the habit of relaxation. I think anyone can do it with practice and training. I just let all the tension drain away. I got to know my sounds and the patterns of my sounds. Some are quite interesting! I try to recognise whether there is a pattern to the times they get worse. If so, is there a contributory factor, something that I can do something about? If so, I do something about it. Thus I have managed to do something about lessening some of them and I am learning to relax about what cannot be altered. It is bad enough to suffer from the tinnitus noises without also suffering from one’s own distressed reactions.”

3.  When my tinnitus starts up, I find it helps to do something that needs concentration.  For example, I do a jigsaw puzzle or some embroidery.

4.  Some people find being in a very quiet room makes their tinnitus more noticeable.  Some said to combat this they usually have the radio on in the background.  Even though they may not be able to hear what is being said on the radio, it helps cover the noise of their tinnitus.

5.  I joined a local tinnitus self-help group.  We meet twice a month and share problems and strategies.

6.  A lot of information about tinnitus can be obtained from the British Tinnitus Association.    Their website is:


7.  I use a Tinnitus Relaxer when I’m trying to get off to sleep.  I find it helps me if I listen to the soothing noises it makes as it makes my tinnitus less noticeable.

8.  My audiologist suggested Tinnitus Retraining Therapy.  I am so pleased she did! The tinnitus hasn’t gone away, but I am much less conscious of it now, and have found some strategies that help when it does get really bad.

What is Tinnitus Retraining Therapy? – Tinnitus retraining therapy encourages patients to concentrate less on the noise in their heads so that they notice it less

9.  One person said, “I find that I notice my tinnitus much more when I am stressed.  I find doing a few relaxation exercises can help lessen it, although it never goes away completely.” (Click here for more information on relaxation.)

The following link will take you direct to information/factsheets about tinnitus