Tinnitus is most often described as a ringing in one or both ears. It can also sound like a buzzing, hissing, clicking, or be of a pulsatile nature (synchronous with heartbeat). It can vary in pitch as well as loudness and may be sporadic or constant. Tinnitus can be just mildly annoying to severely debilitating. It can be either temporary or permanent in nature. When severe, individuals may have trouble hearing, working or even sleeping. The presence of tinnitus is associated with several factors:

  • excessive earwax
  • hearing loss
  • prolonged exposure to loud noise
  • brief exposure to very sudden extremely loud noise
  • other auditory trauma
  • ear and sinus infections
  • heart or blood flow issues
  • Meniere's disease
  • brain tumours
  • certain medications
  • spinal or neck injury
  • TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction)

Treatment for tinnitus

If the tinnitus is due to a temporary/treatable cause like wax obstruction or a sinus infection, it can sometimes be successfully treated. However permanent or long-standing tinnitus which occurred as a result of trauma to auditory structures (such as years of working in loud noise) can often be difficult to manage. Although there isn't a single treatment that can truly cure long-standing tinnitus, symptoms can often be greatly reduced. Hearing aids are considered a good treatment for tinnitus, in that restoring the missing sounds can reduce the tinnitus loudness/severity. It is interesting to note that the pitch range where a person tends to have the greatest degree of hearing loss usually coincides with the pitch of the tinnitus they experience. Although it can make tinnitus virtually undetectable for some, there is almost always some reduction in tinnitus symptoms with the use of amplification. Tiny new hearing aids contain an additional built-in tinnitus treatment that is accessible with the touch of a button. Stand-alone tinnitus masking devices can be placed in the home, such as when going to sleep at night when ringing tends to be most bothersome. An audiologist can provide tinnitus treatment solutions on a case-by-case basis, or make the appropriate referrals for medical management when necessary.

Some other treatments for tinnitus may include:

  • earwax removal
  • changes to an existing medication regime (under physician's recommendation)
  • treatment for back/neck injury
  • dental appliance for TMJ
  • treatment for vascular conditions

Lifestyle/home remedies

For some people, certain lifestyle adjustments can make tinnitus symptoms less bothersome. They include:

  • avoidance of auditory irritants such as loud noise, caffeine and nicotine
  • using a fan or soft music to cover up the noise
  • managing stress
  • reduce alcohol consumption (dilates blood vessels and causes greater blood flow particularly in the inner ear)

Symptoms requiring immediate medical attention:

  • sudden hearing loss
  • foreign object in ear canal
  • significant head injury
  • dizziness or balance problems
  • persisting ear pain
  • fluctuating hearing loss
  • persistant ringing in the ears
  • fullness or pressure in the ears
  • bleeding or drainage from the ear