What is tinnitus and what are some ways to manage it?
If you’ve ever heard a buzzing, ringing or clicking in your ears, you’re not alone. Estimates vary but it’s believed around 30% of people experience the sensation of noise that doesn’t come from the world around them. It’s called tinnitus and it’s not a disease but a symptom that something is wrong in the auditory system.
So, what is tinnitus and what are some ways to manage it?
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the name given to hearing noises in your ears that no one else can hear. These noises could sound like ringing, clicking, nature sounds such as cicadas or crickets, or even rushing water.
They can be occasional or constant, loud or soft. For some people, it’s in both ears and for others, it’s just in one.
According to Tinnitus Australia, over 90% of the population has tinnitus, but for many people, it’s too soft to be noticeable. However, about 15% to 20% report constant tinnitus and around 2% of the population say their tinnitus is very distressing.
What are some causes of tinnitus?
There can be many causes of tinnitus. Some people may experience tinnitus after being at a loud concert, from some medications or from a build-up of earwax.
Tinnitus can also be caused by ear problems such as otosclerosis (abnormal bone growth in the middle ear), Meniere’s disease (swelling of a duct in the ear), degeneration of the hair cells in the cochlear, extreme stress or a brain tumour.
It can be the first sign of hearing loss in older people, and it’s estimated that between 70 and 85% of people with hearing loss also have tinnitus.
Are there treatments for tinnitus?
If you’ve noticed ringing in your ears, it’s important to talk to your doctor. They can talk to you about your medical history, any medications you’re on and check your ears for wax build-up.
They may refer you to an audiologist or ear nose and throat (ENT) specialist. They will make sure it’s not caused by an underlying condition and also see if it’s related to hearing loss.
As tinnitus isn’t a disease, there isn’t a cure or specific treatments, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways you can manage it. There are many techniques to help you manage the symptoms, and over time, not let them bother you as much.
How to manage tinnitus?
When you first realise you’ve got tinnitus, you may be very anxious about it. Your brain might class it as potentially threatening, which means every time you hear it, you might become anxious and send your body into a flight or fight response mode.
Once you’ve determined that nothing life threatening has caused your tinnitus, it’s helpful to change your perception. By accepting you have tinnitus, you can then find some helpful strategies to help you live with it. Some strategies to help you are:
Often people experience more tinnitus when they’re stressed, so it’s important to find some strategies to help you relax. You could do some deep breathing exercises, take up a meditative exercise like yoga or tai chi and always make sure you’re taking care of yourself.
Avoid loud noises
Loud noises can exacerbate tinnitus, so if you work with power tools, use a lawnmower or enjoy loud music venues, make sure you protect your hearing with earmuffs.
If doctors have connected your tinnitus to significant hearing loss, hearing aids may help. Your audiologist will fit you with good quality hearing aids, which may reduce the perception of tinnitus.
Don’t sit in silence
It can be helpful to not sit in silence. If you don’t like the TV or music on in the background while you read or work, you could put on some soothing noises in the background such as rain falling on the roof or the ocean surf.
Talk to someone
If you’re finding tinnitus is having a big impact on your life, you might find it helpful to talk to someone. Talking to a psychologist or counsellor can help you with strategies to manage your tinnitus.
The Tinnitus Association Victoria also has a free phone counselling service with counsellors who have tinnitus themselves.
For more information about tinnitus, visit