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Unravelling the Mystery of Ear Ringing: A Guide to Tinnitus

Dr Oshin Thomas, Consultant ENT Surgeon.

Have you ever heard a buzzing or ringing in your ears that just won't go away, even in quiet places? This phenomenon, known as tinnitus, is more common than you might think. It's essential to know that millions of people deal with tinnitus and it's not a condition in itself but can be a symptom of an underlying issue. Tinnitus can affect anyone from young adults to elderly people. It's just that some people notice it more than others. And for many, it's a temporary hitch that comes and goes. Let's delve into what tinnitus is, its causes, and potential treatments in this comprehensive guide.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no external sound is present. It's often described as a ringing, buzzing, hissing, or whooshing noise in the ears. This phantom sound can vary in pitch and intensity, and it may be intermittent or constant. Some individuals find it a minor annoyance, while for others, it can significantly impact their quality of life, causing distress and difficulty concentrating.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Understanding the exact cause of tinnitus can be complex, as it's often linked to various factors. However, some common triggers and underlying conditions can contribute to its development:

1. Exposure to Loud Noise: Prolonged exposure to loud noises, such as concerts, machinery, or firearms, can damage the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear, leading to tinnitus.

2. Age-Related Hearing Loss: As we age, our hearing tends to decline. This natural process, known as presbycusis, can result in tinnitus for some individuals.

3. Earwax Build-up: Accumulation of earwax can cause blockages in the ear canal, leading to tinnitus symptoms.

4. Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as Meniere's disease, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, high blood pressure, or even stress and anxiety, can trigger tinnitus.

5. Medications: Some medications, including certain antibiotics, antidepressants, and chemotherapy drugs, might cause or exacerbate tinnitus as a side effect.

6. Head and Neck Injuries: Trauma to the head or neck region can damage the auditory system and lead to tinnitus.

7. Changes in Blood Flow: Vascular conditions that affect blood flow, like high blood pressure or atherosclerosis, can cause changes in blood flow in the arteries near the inner ear, resulting in tinnitus.

8. Excessive Stress or Fatigue: Stress and fatigue may not directly cause tinnitus, but they can exacerbate existing symptoms.

Types of Tinnitus

Tinnitus can manifest in different ways, categorized into two main types:

1. Subjective Tinnitus: This is the most common type, where only the person experiencing it can hear the sounds. It is often linked to issues in the inner ear or auditory nerve pathways.

2. Objective Tinnitus: This type is relatively rare and occurs when both the affected person and a healthcare professional can hear the sounds. Objective tinnitus is usually associated with blood vessel issues or muscle contractions.

Managing Tinnitus

While there's no universal cure for tinnitus, various strategies can help manage its symptoms and improve your quality of life:

1. Avoid Loud Noise: Protect your ears from loud noises by using earplugs or earmuffs, especially in environments where the noise level is high.

2. Healthy Lifestyle Changes: Adopt a healthy lifestyle by managing stress, getting regular exercise, and maintaining a balanced diet. These measures can positively impact tinnitus symptoms.

3. Sound Therapy: Masking the ringing with background noise, such as white noise machines, soft music, or nature sounds, can help distract from the tinnitus and make it less noticeable.

4. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT): TRT involves counselling and sound therapy to help retrain your brain's response to the tinnitus sounds, reducing their perceived loudness and impact.

5. Medication and Treatments: In some cases, medications targeting underlying conditions or treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be prescribed to alleviate tinnitus symptoms.

Seeking Professional Help

If you're experiencing persistent tinnitus, it's essential to consult an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate guidance. They can conduct tests to determine the underlying cause of your tinnitus and recommend suitable treatments or management strategies tailored to your needs.


Tinnitus, though often not a serious condition, can be distressing and affect your daily life. Understanding its triggers and available management options is crucial in dealing with its impact. Remember, while there might not be a one-size-fits-all solution, there are numerous approaches to help you cope and reduce the annoyance caused by tinnitus. If you're experiencing tinnitus, don't hesitate to seek professional help. With the right guidance and strategies, you can better manage its effects and continue to enjoy life without the constant interference of unwanted ringing or buzzing in your ears.