TinnitusOverview

Tinnitus is the name for hearing noises that are not caused by an outside source. It's not usually a sign of any serious conditions and generally improves over time. There are treatments that can help.

Tinnitus can sound like:

  • ringing
  • buzzing
  • whooshing
  • humming
  • hissing
  • throbbing
  • music or singing

You may hear these sounds in 1 or both ears, or in your head. They may come and go, or you might hear them all the time.

See a GP if:

  • you have tinnitus regularly or constantly
  • your tinnitus is getting worse
  • your tinnitus is bothering you – for example, it's affecting your sleep or concentration

Ask for an urgent GP appointment if you have tinnitus:

  • after a head injury
  • with sudden hearing loss, weakness in the muscles of your face, or a spinning sensation (vertigo)
  • that beats in time with your pulse

What happens at your appointment

Your GP will look in your ears to see if your tinnitus is caused by something they can treat, such as an ear infection or a build-up of earwax.

They might also check for any hearing loss.

You may be referred to a specialist for further tests and treatment.

Do

  • try to relax – deep breathing or yoga may help
  • try to find ways to improve your sleep, such as sticking to a bedtime routine or cutting down on caffeine
  • join a support group – talking to other people with tinnitus may help you cope

Don't

  • do not have total silence – listening to soft music or sounds (called sound therapy) can distract you from the tinnitus
  • do not focus on it, as this can make it worse – hobbies and activities can help take your mind off it

The British Tinnitus Association has more information on sound therapy, and runs support groups and a free helpline on 0800 018 0527.

Action on Hearing Loss has a free helpline on 0808 808 0123.

If the cause of your tinnitus is unknown or cannot be treated, your GP or specialist may refer you for a type of talking therapy.

This could be:

  • tinnitus counselling – to help you learn about your tinnitus and find ways of coping with it
  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – to change the way you think about your tinnitus and reduce anxiety
  • tinnitus retraining therapy – using sound therapy to retrain your brain to tune out and be less aware of the tinnitus

Tinnitus retraining therapy may be available on the NHS for people with severe or persistent tinnitus. It's widely available privately.

It's not always clear what causes tinnitus, but it's often linked with:

Page last reviewed: 29/03/2018
Next review due: 29/03/2021