It’s Tinnitus Awareness Week. To raise awareness of this, we’re answering some common questions about tinnitus.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus means hearing noises or ringing in your ears that isn’t caused by a particular source. This can be a symptom of an underlying condition like an ear injury or age related hearing loss. It can sound like buzzing, humming, hissing or throbbing. Tinnitus may be difficult, but it can improve over time.

Does tinnitus affect one ear?

It can - but both ears can also be affected by tinnitus. You may hear the whooshing or ringing noises all of the time, or it can be a passing noise.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus is linked to a number of reasons, but its causes are not always certain. 

Tinnitus can be related to conditions such as diabetes, MS or thyroid problems. 

It can also be due to Ménière’s disease. This is a condition of the inner ear, that can cause vertigo, ear pressure or hearing loss as well as tinnitus. Ménière’s disease can bring on attacks that cause ringing in the ears, feeling unsteady and feeling sick - sometimes all at the same time. 

Anxiety and depression have also been linked to tinnitus, as feeling stressed or anxious can make the tinnitus more noticeable. 

Being exposed to loud noises can cause tinnitus - it can be due to short term exposure, or as a result of being exposed to noises over a longer period. Tinnitus can be caused by hearing loss too, which can come with older age.

Certain medications can cause or worsen tinnitus, including aspirin, medications to treat cancer, antibiotics and certain antidepressants. 

Additionally, causes can include perforated eardrums, ear wax build up and ear infections. 

What is pulsatile tinnitus?

Pulsatile tinnitus is a more rhythmic beating that mirrors your heart beat. It can normally be determined by checking your pulse at the same time as listening to the beat of the tinnitus. 

The causes of pulsatile tinnitus are due to a change in blood flow of vessels close to the ear. Blood flow increasing generally can cause pulsatile tinnitus, as it is flowing quicker so it is making more noise - this can be due to exercising. 

The inside of the arteries can become hardened (atherosclerosis) and can cause blood flow to become turbulent - this can lead to pulsatile tinnitus. 

How pulsatile tinnitus is treated will depend on the specific cause behind it. However, if the tinnitus is due to something granular like a specific artery, it may not be treatable.

How can I protect myself from tinnitus?

Taking certain precautions does not necessarily mean you will not develop tinnitus, but taking special care of your hearing can help.

Using hearing protection, particularly when you have a job that means you’re around loud noises regularly, can help to protect you from tinnitus. 

You should be mindful of volume when you watch TV or when you listen to music - particularly if you’re doing so through headphones. 

How is tinnitus treated?

In order to ease the trouble of tinnitus, it’s recommended that you try to relax - whether that is through deep breathing or yoga. You can also try to improve your sleep and the quality of it, so creating a bedtime routine that you adhere to and reducing the amount of caffeine you’re consuming. 

There are tinnitus support groups that can help you connect with other people in the same situation, and share tips and tricks to manage the condition. 

If a treatment isn’t available for the type of tinnitus you have, it may be suggested that you undertake some tinnitus counselling to help to understand the condition and how to cope with it. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy is used to help with a number of conditions, and is used to change the way you think about tinnitus and to help manage anxiety.

Want to know more about tinnitus? Why not read our blogs on coping strategies and music festivals.

For further information on tinnitus including support, visit British Tinnitus Association.