Patient information on Tinnitus
Who is this information for?
This information is for patients, families and carers regarding tinnitus.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the experience of hearing a sound from within one or both of your ears, or your head, in the absence
of an actual sound. Tinnitus is often described as a ringing, buzzing or whistling, but can be any noise.
This noise is usually due to a minor disorder of the hearing system and it may be associated with a hearing loss or
exposure to loud noise. It is often worse in quiet environments, such as when going to sleep at night.
Although tinnitus can be distressing, it is not life threatening and your quality of life can be improved. Strategies can be implemented to manage tinnitus.
How does my hearing affect tinnitus?
When you hear, outside sounds travel in waves in the air and are converted by your inner ear (cochlea) into
nerve signals that are like tiny electrical currents. These signals pass along your hearing nerve to your brain.
Your brain then sorts out what information is important. This usually means ignoring meaningless sounds.
Unfortunately many people with tinnitus tend to pay attention to this unfamiliar sound in their ear/ears, which
can cause distress.
Your hearing system has the ability to select out certain important, strange or worrying sounds such as tinnitus
for special attention, and filter out other sounds. With hearing loss, your ability to hear external sounds reduces,
and with this lack of contrasting sound, you become more aware of internal tinnitus noises. Any other form of
hearing disorder or damage can add to this natural hearing loss and make tinnitus even more noticeable.
However, tinnitus can also happen with completely normal hearing levels as well.
How can I reduce the tension and anxiety associated with tinnitus?
Patients often worry about tinnitus and this can cause tension. Understanding the cycle of tinnitus and tension,
and learning how to relax, can assist in reducing anxiety and the tinnitus itself. The cycle of tinnitus and tension is
How do relaxation exercises assist with tinnitus management?
Relieving tension in your body assists in breaking the cycle of tension and tinnitus.
Simple relaxation exercises can be used to help your body to relax.
What is sound therapy and how can it assist in the management of tinnitus?
The natural history of tinnitus is for it to gradually recede into the background so that you become hardly aware
of it. This is known as the habituation process. You can speed up the habituation process by increasing the
amount of background sound near you. This is known as sound therapy. Sound therapy reduces the contrast
between the level of your tinnitus and the level of background sound. This results in a reduction of intrusiveness
of your tinnitus and the tension it causes, which disrupts the tinnitus tension cycle. Background sounds may
come from the following:
- Pleasant low sound from television, radio or a fan
- Sound conditioner, such as a device that plays natural sound
- White noise generator
- Wearable noise generator, a device which looks like and is worn like a hearing aid, but makes its own
- Wearing and using a hearing aid, even if you only have slight difficulty in hearing
The level of the background sound needs to be just below that of the tinnitus. By removing a quiet environment,
your brain does not to try and hear the tinnitus noise more clearly. Sound therapy is usually required when you
are awake and asleep, but some people find they only need it in quiet environments.
Should I use earplugs to manage tinnitus?
If you have tinnitus, you should not wear any kind of earplugs that make it more difficult to hear, except
when you are exposed to very loud noise (e.g. concerts, machinery). Earplugs will not help your
tinnitus and will probably make the tinnitus sound louder when you are wearing them.
Can I have temporary deafness and tinnitus?
If you have been exposed to a particularly loud sound or working environment, you may experience
dullness of hearing and/or tinnitus immediately afterwards. This tinnitus will usually disappear within a
few minutes to hours. If your ears are repeatedly exposed to loud sounds there is a risk of permanent
damage to your hearing.
Can my general health affect tinnitus?
Some diets, activities and situations may aggravate your tinnitus. By adjusting your lifestyle, tinnitus may
be improved. Aggravating factors may include:
- Very loud noise
- Some medications
- Stress and fatigue
- Coffee, tea, cola drinks or chocolate (caffeine)
Concerns or questions?
You can contact your ENT Specialist at the Melbourne ENT Group (MEG):
Your GP is also the best contact for ongoing care and concerns.