What is tinnitus and what does it feel like?
Tinnitus is a ringing or other sound in one or both ears, either constant or coming and going. Some people with tinnitus feel like the sound is coming from the middle of their head.
If you have tinnitus, you might hear:
A pulsing sound (pulsatile tinnitus)
A mechanical sounding noise
Singing or music
The noise of tinnitus can be quiet and mild or loud and severe. Most people who develop tinnitus can live life as usual, but it can affect your daily activities if the ringing is loud.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus is linked to a change in brain activity. So even though you might experience tinnitus after an ear infection, it’s the way your brain processes sound that causes the tinnitus.
Tinnitus can be caused by:
Conditions like diabetes, thyroid disorders or multiple sclerosis
Certain medicines, including chemotherapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics and aspirin
Sometimes, there’s no clear cause.
What is pulsatile tinnitus?
Pulsatile tinnitus is a rhythmic noise that happens at the same rate as your heartbeat. It’s often caused by a change in blood flow in the arteries and veins near the ears or in your neck.
Your blood flow can change when you:
Have hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
In rare cases, blood flow can be affected by a tumour, causing blood vessels to change. Most tumours linked with pulsatile tinnitus are benign.
Is there a cure for tinnitus?
There is no cure for tinnitus, so treatment focuses on treating the cause of the ringing and self-care tips to help ease it. If there isn’t an obvious cause, a GP might recommend talking therapy.
There are different types of talking therapy for tinnitus:
Tinnitus counselling – focuses on understanding tinnitus and ways to cope
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – changes your thoughts and reaction to tinnitus and eases anxiety about it
Tinnitus retraining therapy – uses sound therapy to help your brain focus on something else
Tinnitus can be worrying when it first happens and an irritating sound to get used to. This can make you feel anxious, which can make it worse. As you get used to having it and learning what helps ease it, it’s likely to become less of an annoyance.
Self-care advice to improve tinnitus
There are lots of things you can do that may help to ease tinnitus:
Try relaxation techniques like yoga and deep breathing
Get a good night’s sleep – Create a calming bedtime routine and avoid caffeine later in the day
Talk to other people with tinnitus, so you don’t feel alone
Listen to soft music to distract you from the tinnitus noise
Take your mind off it with fun activities and hobbies
If you’re stressed, ask a GP for help
When should I seek help for tinnitus?
If you think you have tinnitus regularly or all the time, talk to a GP.
You should also book an appointment them if:
Your tinnitus gets louder, more frequent or worse in general
It’s affecting your sleep or making you anxious
You notice that your tinnitus pulses at the same rate as your heart
If you have tinnitus after a head injury or with sudden hearing loss or a spinning sensation, get emergency medical help.
- Reviewed by:
- Dr Harriet Bradley, Livi Medical Director