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Tinnitus is a condition characterized by a ringing in the ears that emanates from inside the body; although it may feel like an external sound, this is actually not the case. It is an increasingly common condition in the United Kingdom, with 7.1 million adults estimated to suffer according to a study by the British Tinnitus Association in 2019.

It comes in various different forms:

  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Humming

Some individual sufferers can even hear a form of music or singing, whilst others still can hear the beat of their pulse, a.k.a. pulsatile tinnitus. Whichever form it takes, it can be a seriously debilitating and life-altering condition.

Seriousness of the symptoms

Thankfully, tinnitus is seldom the sign of an acute underlying condition. For some people, it can be a fleeting thing that comes and goes. That said, it can become more serious over time and start to impact your everyday life and sense of wellbeing. In severe cases, it can cause a great deal of distress and render you unable to concentrate, lead to depression and even cause insomnia. The strength and intensity of the condition may also depend on the root cause of the condition.

Even though most cases will solve themselves to a degree, it is always important to contact your GP and seek further medical attention should there be an unaddressed source of the issue.

When to see your GP or a specialist 

If you find that you’re constantly suffering from prolonged bouts of tinnitus (a week or longer), then it is strongly advised that you seek further assistance. Your first step should be contacting your GP for a check-up, who may then refer you onto a specialist.

What causes tinnitus?

There are a variety of different reasons for why you might have tinnitus, ranging from those that develop over time or sudden, unexpected bouts. Let’s look at some of the most common factors:

  • Working in a noisy environment

If you’re working in heavy industry with loud machinery, then you are far more likely to develop tinnitus. This can be gradual; however, a single event can spark the condition should you experience a noise loud enough.

  • Stress

Perhaps the least understood but one of the more intense (and common) forms of tinnitus comes from stress. Symptoms may appear suddenly, triggered by a particularly traumatic moment, and become progressively worse over a short space of time.

  • Ear canal blockage / Earwax buildup

Foreign bodies trapped in the ear canal as well as a blockage caused by excess wax can both lead to tinnitus by changing the pressure levels in your ears. You should also watch out for a build up of fluids, dirt and dust – all can have troublesome effects.

  • Aging

Most of us – if we’re lucky – get older. Unfortunately, aging also causes the number of functioning nerve fibres in your ears to decline, resulting in a multitude of hearing issues, including tinnitus.

  • Prescription Drugs

Certain medications can either cause or exacerbate tinnitus symptoms. Higher doses often lead to a worsening condition. These include:

    • water pills (diuretics)
    • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
    • antibiotics (particularly the E-Mycin group)
    • cancer drugs
    • antimalarial drugs
    • antidepressants
  • Head and neck injuries

Sometimes injuries can affect hearing nerves, the inner ear and brain functions linked to hearing, resulting in a knock-on effect that causes tinnitus. Most of these types of injuries cause it in one ear only.

Uncommon causes of tinnitus may include chronic health conditions, injuries, conditions and ear problems which affect either the nerves in your ear or the hearing centre of your brain. Some of these rarer causes are as follows:
  • Ménière’s disease

An acute inner ear condition that can cause rapid and sudden bouts of vertigo and nausea.

  • Eustachian Tube dysfunction

A small tube that connects the throat to your middle ear which when blocked can cause a variety of hearing problems not limited to tinnitus.

  • Blood vessel disorders

Any condition which affects your blood vessels, like high blood pressure, atherosclerosis or disfigured vessels can result in blood flow changes which in turn either cause or aggravate a ringing in the ears.

  • Otosclerosis

This is a malformation which occurs between the different segments of the inner ear by an excess build up of calcium, causing the individual parts to fuse. It is known to occur most often in first-time mothers due to rapid hormonal change, but it can also be hereditary.

  • Muscle Spasms

The inner ear has tiny muscles which can tense unpredictably, and for no discernible reason. These spasms can result in tinnitus and indeed hearing loss. Neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) can also be a predictive factor.

  • Acoustic Neuroma

A noncancerous (benign) tumour that develops along the cranial nerve (from your brain to inner ear), Acoustic Neuroma can seriously interfere with your balance and hearing. Other tumours, however benign, are also likely to cause tinnitus if they are situated in and around your head and neck.

  • Temporomandibular joint disorders

The joint located on each side of your head in front of your ears, the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can cause tinnitus if it has problems.

  • Chronic conditions

Migraines, anemia, diabetes, thyroid issues and autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can all contribute to tinnitus.

It should be noted that there are a whole host of contributing factors that may make you more susceptible to tinnitus. These include continual exposure to loud noises (like prolonged use of portable music devices), tobacco and alcohol use, obesity, heart problems and lastly, if you are male you also have an increased chance of developing the condition.

Treating tinnitus

There will never be a single perfect way to treat tinnitus – everyone is different, and each case is individual. One persons’ underlying cause will not be another’s. Treating the origin of the condition is the best way to combat the symptoms.

However, if you find that your GP or doctor cannot definitively diagnose your predicament, then don’t worry – there is help available.

At Hear4U we offer the following treatments:

  • Sound therapy

This involves listening to various different ambient sounds to distract your mind from the tinnitus.
Check out our range of tinnitus products at Hearing Aid Accessories >>

We have specially trained in-house counsellors that can help you come to terms with your tinnitus and deal with it more effectively.

  • Earwax Removal

If earwax build up (compaction) is the main cause of your tinnitus, we provide a range of different ear wax removal methods to help you.