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Tinnitus - symptoms and causes

To kick off Tinnitus Awareness Week, we're going through the common symptoms of tinnitus and what can cause it. We'll also cover some ways to manage the condition which currently affects over 10% of the UK population.

What exactly is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is commonly referred to as "ringing in the ears". It's the perception of sound within your ears (or your head) that is not coming from any external source. Sometimes it can sound like buzzing or whistling, and these sounds can be heard from one or both ears.

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Image of ladies ear

What are the symptoms?

Tinnitus is almost always compared to a ringing in the ears, when nobody else nearby can hear it. But tinnitus can also cause other types of noises in your ears.


30% of us will suffer from tinnitus at some point during our life, and the severity of tinnitus can vary from individual to individual. Some may experience subtle noises within the ear/headspace, and it might be now and then, whereas others hear noises so loud that it makes it hard to concentrate, and the noises can be persistent. Unfortunately, in many cases, tinnitus sufferers experience the symptoms every day.

The actual noises of tinnitus can vary too, sometimes the pitch can be a low roar or a whooshing sound, other times it can be a high-pitched hiss or squeal.

The sounds can begin to interfere with sleep patterns at night and also lower concentration levels during the daytime, so you can imagine how it would affect quality of life. Your posture can also contribute to how severe the symptoms are, for example, how you hold your head can make a difference as to how severe (or loud) the tinnitus is. Stress and anxiety can also aggravate things and cause the symptoms to worsen.

What are the causes?

Tap each image to reveal the causes

Ear infections or ear canal blockages

Ear canals blocked with fluid, earwax or other foreign matter can change ear pressure, resulting in tinnitus.

Hearing loss

As you age, the tiny hairs inside your inner ear can bend and break. This can cause random electrical impulses to be sent to the brain.


Some medications (such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, certain antibiotics and antidepressants) may cause tinnitus or worsen the symptoms. Often the unwanted noises disappear once you stop taking the medication.

Head or neck injuries

Head or neck injuries can affect the inner ear and also the hearing nerves. These injuries can cause tinnitus, though usually only in one ear.

Blood vessel disorders

High blood pressure, atherosclerosis and other conditions that can affect blood vessels can cause the blood to move through the arteries/veins with more force, making tinnitus symptoms more noticeable.

Other causes of tinnitus

Otosclerosis can occur (and can run in the family). This is when a very small bone inside your ear (called the stapes) fuses with other parts of the ear. This may affect your hearing and cause tinnitus.

Acoustic neuroma is a benign brain tumour, also known as a vestibular schwannomaor. This, and other head and neck tumors can cause tinnitus.

Tinnitus can sometimes be an early sign of Meniere's disease, which is a rare disorder affecting the inner ear. It can also cause hearing loss and vertigo.

The tube inside your ear which connects the middle ear to your upper throat can sometimes remain expanded. This is known as Eustachian tube dysfunction. It can cause tinnitus and makes your ear feel "full".

Also, muscles inside the inner ear can sometimes spasm and result in tinnitus.

Some other chronic conditions such as diabetes, migraines, thyroid problems and anemia have been associated with tinnitus.

Don't suffer alone

In the UK, over 1 million tinnitus consultations are held with GPs every year. Over 7 million people in the UK suffer with it, and too frequently, sufferers are told that "nothing can be done about tinnitus" and it's something that they simply must live with. This is not true, there are many ways to manage tinnitus.

Don't suffer alone

In the UK, over 1 million tinnitus consultations are held with GPs every year. Over 7 million people in the UK suffer with it, and too frequently, sufferers are told that "nothing can be done about tinnitus" and it's something that they simply must live with. This is not true, there are many ways to manage tinnitus.

How to manage tinnitus

Have your hearing checked

Have your hearing checked

Since there is no cure for tinnitus, the best thing to do is find it early so that you can start managing it as soon as possible and prevent it affecting your lifestyle. A hearing check would be the best first step.
Earwax removal

Earwax removal

As we've mentioned, tinnitus can be caused by a build-up of earwax inside your ear canal. At Barracloughs, our audiology partners THCP can offer flat-fee earwax removal for £70 in-practice. This is carried out using the latest and safest removal techniques to ensure quick and painless tinnitus relief.
Use hearing aids

Use hearing aids

The British Tinnitus Association lists using hearing aids as one of the most effective ways to cope with tinnitus symptoms. If you already suffer with hearing loss, addressing this can bring an indirect relief to the tinnitus itself.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on controlling negative feelings surrounding tinnitus. This is a fantastic approach as stress will only exacerbate the condition. Tinnitus is already stressful and difficult to live with so the benefits of CBT are well worthwhile, helping to make the symptoms less noticeable.
Sound Enrichment Therapy

Sound Enrichment Therapy

This process simply uses natural background sounds (such as birdsong, rainfall or sometimes white noise) to distract your brain from focusing on the tinnitus sounds. Thanks to the progression of hearing aid technology, this feature can be included in your hearing aids!
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is basically a combination of sound enrichment therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The end result should hopefully help you focus on relaxing, natural sounds and therefore ignore the irritating tinnitus sounds.

What happens during a tinnitus consultation at Barracloughs?

Our qualified audiologists from The Hearing Care Partnership will carry out a full hearing assessment to gain a better understanding of your hearing and to determine any hearing loss which might be caused by your tinnitus. This consultation is free of charge.

Medical history will be covered to see if there is anything that may have triggered or aggravated the tinnitus.

The health of the ears is checked to rule out whether or not wax or infections are the cause of the tinnitus. A middle ear pressure check takes place followed by a thorough hearing test to determine if there is any underlying hearing loss.


Lady with tinnitus
Man with tinnitus

How much does it cost?

Tinnitus consultations with The Hearing Care Partnership are free of charge with absolutely no obligation to pay for further hearing care. If your audiologist recommends hearing aids, you're free to discuss this with them and decide whether or not you'd like to go down that route. We notice that many customers find hearing aids a lifechanging step, and have wondered why they didn't explore that option sooner!

Frequently asked questions...

Will tinnitus go away on its own?
It does often go away on its own. However, if your tinnitus has been persistent for quite some time and is affecting your daily life, book a free tinnitus consultation with one of our expert audiologists. Choose your preferred store from the buttons at the bottom of this page.

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