Tinnitus is a person’s perception of a sound ringing, buzzing or humming, which is not being created by the external environment. It's quite a common condition and may be constant or intermittent in nature.
- Can be categorised as either objective or subjective tinnitus
- Can lead to serious mental health issues such as depression and insomnia
- Underlying condition established first before treatment
If you are distressed by tinnitus and would like to speak to a doctor, you can use our private online video consultation service. During your appointment, a doctor will be able to issue advice and refer you to a specialist if needed.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a perceived ringing, buzzing or humming in the ear that does not stem from the surrounding environment. It may be subjective, where the tinnitus can only be heard by the person who has it, or objective, where a doctor will be able to hear it upon close examination.
What causes tinnitus?
It is not fully understood why tinnitus occurs, although it is thought that it's related to a continued, background neurological activity from the cochlea, which some people hear and others do not. It's believed to be a failure of the central auditory system to filter out this activity that leads to tinnitus.
The condition is often closely associated with hearing loss - usually due to ageing or having experienced loud noise over an extended period of time. Other conditions that are associated with tinnitus include ear infections, neurological disorders such as acoustic neuroma, metabolic disorders such as diabetes and psychological disorders.
Who gets tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a very common condition in the UK, with around 10% of adults experiencing it for a prolonged period. The likelihood of getting tinnitus increases with age, and the incidence rate of tinnitus cases that require medical attention in England alone is around five in every 10,000. Tinnitus will usually be exacerbated by focusing on it, and this often occurs in people who suffer from anxiety or depression. Despite its potentially significant impact on someone's life, tinnitus will generally improve over time as you become accustomed to it.
Tinnitus does not lead to other physical conditions, however it can have a significant psychological effect on a person. For example, it can interfere with someone's thought process and lead to difficulties in undertaking regular activities, which may in turn cause feelings of loneliness, social isolation, depression and anxiety.
To speak to a healthcare professional about tinnitus online, book an appointment through our video consultation service at a convenient time for you. Our prescribers can offer advice or refer you to a specialist.
How is tinnitus diagnosed?
A doctor will want to assess several factors surrounding your tinnitus. They will want to find out whether it is continuous or episodic, a symptom of another condition, and focused on one ear or both. A doctor will use an otoscope to see if there are any issues with the ear, such as an ear canal swelling or build-up of earwax. Hearing ability and the jaw will also be examined.
Will I need tests?
The examination that you undergo may be stringent in order to find out the cause and type of tinnitus. In other circumstances, further tests will not usually be necessary unless a doctor suspects that the tinnitus is the result of an underlying condition. In this case, a doctor may check your full blood count (FBC), thyroid function and lipid levels.
What will a doctor normally advise?
A doctor will refer you to a specialist if you are diagnosed with tinnitus, and will likely stress that the aim of treatment is to reduce the impact it has on your life. Tinnitus requires habituation and there is no quick solution. There are a number of noise suppression techniques, such as white noise machines and hearing aids, which may help. There are also medications which can reduce symptoms. A doctor will also likely suggest lifestyle adjustments to help with your tinnitus. These include, but are not limited to, managing stress, reducing alcohol consumption and avoiding potential irritants that might trigger tinnitus.
What treatments are there for tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a difficult condition to treat as there can be many underlying causes which are hard to establish. If tinnitus is due to a particular condition, such as impacted earwax or a temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or the adverse effects of medication, this will need to be treated separately. The treatments that are available specifically for tinnitus include sound therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and hearing aids.
How is tinnitus treated?
Tinnitus can be treated in a number of ways, depending on what the root cause is. The condition cannot be cured as such, but it may be managed using a variety of techniques such as sound therapy and hearing aids.
What treatments are there?
One technique that can be used is sound therapy, otherwise known as sound enrichment. This involves using other sounds to make tinnitus less intrusive. Some of the more popular methods include using a CD, phone app or radio to create soft white noise. The sound from a water feature and an electric fan may also be useful. Additionally, there are hearing aids which may be acquired on the NHS that can be amplified to create a number of soft tones.
Can I consult a doctor about tinnitus online?
Yes. You can book an appointment to speak to a prescriber online through our video consultation service. Our doctors may be able to offer advice on alleviating symptoms, or refer you to a specialist where appropriate.