It’s possible to find relief from tinnitus – you’ve come to the right place. Tinnitus is the medical term for the hearing of sound in your ears or head when no external sound is present. Tinnitus itself is not a condition or a disease. Instead, it’s a symptom — typically of something bigger going on with your hearing or body, like ear infections, high blood pressure or hearing loss.

Everyone’s tinnitus is different, which has in the past made finding relief so elusive. Below, we answer all your questions about tinnitus. The more you know about it, the easier it is to take back control.

What’s that ringing in my ears?

Typically, sufferers of tinnitus describe the sound as “ringing in the ears”, though others may describe it as a hissing, buzzing, squealing, whistling, roaring and even chirping. There are also instances where some hear regular pulsations or pulsatile tinnitus. The sounds of tinnitus are unique to the individual. Because of this, the treatment plans our hearing specialists create for each tinnitus patient will be just as individual.

Tinnitus can be subjective or objective. Subjective tinnitus is the sound that only you can hear, while objective tinnitus is something a doctor can also hear when they examine you.

The important thing to know is that you’re in good company. Nearly one in five Australians will experience tinnitus, from mild and temporary, to severe. Each person will also have a different experience on how bothersome they find their tinnitus and how much it impacts their quality of life. Have a listen to some of the noises of tinnitus on the Australian Tinnitus Association website. The best thing to do if you, or a loved one, is experiencing any sounds originating from inside the ears or head, is to come visit us at your local clinic or see your GP.

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What causes tinnitus?

Scientists and health experts don’t know the exact physical cause of tinnitus, but several sources are known to be common tinnitus risk factors or make tinnitus worse, including:

  • Loud noises and hearing loss – Exposure to loud noises is the biggest cause of tinnitus. It can destroy the non-regenerative cilia (tiny hairs) in the cochlea, causing permanent tinnitus and/or hearing loss in one or both ears.
  • Aging – As you age, those same cilia gradually deteriorate, which can lead to tinnitus and/or age-related hearing loss.
  • Ototoxic medications – Some prescription medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and antidepressants are harmful to the inner ear as well as the nerve fibres connecting the cochlea to the brain.
  • Hearing conditions – Conditions such as otosclerosis and Meniere’s disease are known to cause tinnitus.
  • Health conditions – Tinnitus can also be a symptom of health conditions like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stress and head injuries.

Is there a cure for tinnitus?

While research continues, there is currently no ‘cure’ for tinnitus. Although treating tinnitus is not yet possible, there are plenty of ways to get relief and manage the impact it has on your life. Please be wary of the many promises to cure tinnitus, and “miracle products” out there on the internet — these have no scientific basis.

Instead, working with health professionals such as a GP, ENT or audiologist will ensure that you’ll be able to access the right tinnitus treatment plan for you.

What tinnitus treatments are available?

It depends on what’s causing the tinnitus. Sometimes the problem can be treated easily, and that alleviates the symptoms of tinnitus. Like an ear infection for example. If the cause of your tinnitus means that it is persistent or permanent, we’ll then help you with steps to relieve the discomfort.

Counselling and tinnitus sound therapy (tinnitus retraining therapy or habituation) can lessen your emotional response to the sounds. You can train your brain to attach no negative emotional meaning to the tinnitus, so you can get back to living life the way you want to.

If you have hearing loss as well as tinnitus, our ihear clinicians can recommend hearing aids with special Multiflex Tinnitus Technology. These deliver a customizable and comforting ‘sound therapy’ stimulus that will balance, soothe, or even completely mask the unwanted tinnitus noises.

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Can I have tinnitus in one ear?

It’s definitely possible to experience the ringing, buzzing, hissing or other noises of tinnitus in one ear only. How your tinnitus manifests will depend on the underlying cause.

Can I have tinnitus without hearing loss? 

Most of the tinnitus cases we see are accompanied by some degree of hearing loss. This is because most cases of tinnitus, certainly when excessive noise exposure is involved, are linked to damage to the cochlear. The cochlear is a structure in the inner ear which is lined with tiny sensory hair cells. These are damaged by both prolonged loud noise and the aging process, and they cannot regenerate. Damage to these hairs interferes with the efficiency of sound transfer to the brain, resulting in hearing loss.

Your tinnitus itself can be loud enough that it’s difficult to listen and hear sometimes. The Better Hearing Institute estimates that around 39% of people with tinnitus are affected this way.

If you are experiencing tinnitus, come in for a free hearing health check with one of our hearing health professionals. The earlier we treat your hearing loss, the better the results we can achieve together.

What medications can cause tinnitus or make it worse?

Did you know more than 200 types of medications can cause you to experience tinnitus? That’s according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Some of these include over-the-counter drugs you might have in your bathroom cabinet, like aspirin and ibuprofen. Certain antibiotics, antidepressants, diuretics and strong cancer medications can also induce tinnitus as a side- effect.

When taking medications, be sure to stick to the recommended dosages, and see your doctor if you are bothered by tinnitus as a side effect. Much of the time, when your dosage is stopped or reduced, the tinnitus will ease.

Is it normal to get tinnitus with an ear infection?

Built-up earwax or a middle-ear infection (otitis media) can be the cause of temporary tinnitus. The good news is that when the infection or blockage is treated and cleared, your tinnitus symptoms should also clear. See your doctor if you suspect you have an ear infection, as early treatment will limit any potential damage to the delicate hearing system.

What is tinnitus retraining therapy?

Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) is also known as habituation therapy. It involves the retraining of the auditory system to recognise the annoying sounds of tinnitus as natural, rather than as a threat. The goal is to remove negative emotions associated with the noises, alleviating the stress and anxiety of chronic tinnitus. TRT consists of both educational counselling sessions and sound therapy.

Studies have shown that around 80 percent of patients treated through TRT have achieved relief. They may be aware of their tinnitus, but they’ll be less bothered by it. When TRT is successful, patients will also perceive their tinnitus is present for less time than they previously noticed it.

How does a tinnitus masker work?

Tinnitus masking is based on the premise that sufferers are most bothered in quiet or silent settings, like going to bed at night. Tinnitus maskers are available as wearable, or non-wearable. Wearable devices sit inside the ear canal like that of a hearing aid and emit a comforting sound (often a “shhh” or similar white noise) to take your focus off the unpleasant tinnitus noises. Different devices offer the ability to either completely mask the sound or just blend the unwanted sound to a more pleasant level.

Tinnitus maskers are also available in a ‘tabletop’ format and can be beneficial when placed near the bed to aid in getting to sleep. Starkey Hearing Technologies, which manufactures our Multiflex Tinnitus Technology products, has released a tinnitus relief app, that operates as a tinnitus masker. Relax is available on iPhone and Android devices and includes 12 customisable relief sounds including crackling fire, rainfall and ocean waves.