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Tinnitus (Ringing in the Ears)

  • What is tinnitus?

    Tinnitus refers to ringing or noise in 1 or both ears that is not caused by an external sound and only the affected person can hear it. It is often a symptom of an underlying condition, such as presbycusis (hearing loss caused by old age) or an ear injury.

    Tinnitus is a common problem affecting around 20% of adults and can vary from a low roaring sound to a high squealing pitch. Although it can be annoying, it is not a serious problem and can be treated.

  • Tinnitus is commonly caused by hearing loss due to ageing or injury to the cochlea (hearing organ). The cochlea no longer sends normal impulses to the brain, which then creates its own noise to make up for the lack of sound.

    Common causes of tinnitus include:

    • Damage to the hearing nerves in the inner ear, which are responsible for acute hearing
    • Exposure to overly loud noises (from clubs, concerts or portable music devices) which can cause temporary or permanent tinnitus. This is considered the main cause of tinnitus in young people and often leads to hearing damage.
    • Other medical conditions, such as Meniere’s disease, circulatory disorders, cancer, diabetes, overactive thyroid, head and neck injury, or an allergy
    • Underlying conditions, such as middle ear infections, fluid build-up in the middle ear or a hole in the eardrum
  • A person suffering from tinnitus often experiences the following symptoms:

    • Dizziness
    • Hearing loss
    • Ringing, roaring or buzzing sounds in 1 or both ears
  • There are different treatments available for tinnitus. Your ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist will assess the condition to find the underlying cause and suggest a suitable treatment. Treatments may include:

    • Medications to improve blood circulation to the cochlea and to treat associated depression. These include antibiotics, antidepressants, aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs.
    • Reassurance, which might be sufficient and no treatment is needed
    • Relaxation exercises to manage muscles and circulation all over the body
    • Use of hearing aids that help to reduce tinnitus when worn
    • Using devices that produce white noise, such as a ticking clock or running water, to cover up the internal noise

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