Tinnitus: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

Tinnitus, commonly referred to as "ringing in the ears," is a condition where an individual perceives sound in the absence of any external auditory stimuli. These sounds can vary widely from person to person and may be described as ringing, buzzing, hissing, whistling, or clicking. The sound can be continuous or intermittent, loud or soft, and can affect one or both ears.

It's important to note that tinnitus is not a disease in itself but rather a symptom of an underlying condition or anomaly. This phantom sound can be a temporary occurrence or a persistent issue that significantly impacts an individual's quality of life. When persistent, it can lead to various complications, including depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

The Prevalence of Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a fairly common condition, with an estimated 10-15% of the global population experiencing some form of it. It seems to affect men more than women and is particularly prevalent among the elderly.

Types of Tinnitus

Tinnitus can be broadly classified into two categories:

  1. Subjective Tinnitus: This is the most common form of tinnitus, where only the individual can perceive the sound. It usually arises from auditory and neurological reactions to hearing loss or could be a side effect of certain medications.
  2. Objective Tinnitus: This is a rarer form where the sound can be heard by both the individual and others. It usually results from vascular abnormalities or involuntary muscle contractions.

Causes of Tinnitus

Tinnitus can result from various pathological processes that affect the hearing system or nearby anatomical structures. It's usually not a cause for concern and typically resolves within two weeks. However, persistent or recurrent tinnitus should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Common causes include:

  1. Ear Diseases: Most ear diseases can lead to tinnitus. These include acute infections, traumas, inner ear disorders like Ménière's disease, and exposure to ototoxic drugs. Conditions affecting the middle and external ear, such as infections, dysfunction of the Eustachian tubes, or obstruction of the ear canal, can also cause tinnitus.
  2. Acoustic Pathway Issues: Problems affecting the acoustic pathways, responsible for interpreting sounds, can lead to tinnitus. These include local inflammation, infections, tumors, lesions of the central nervous system, physiological aging of the hearing system, and otosclerosis.
  3. Other Pathological Conditions: Tinnitus can also signal diseases unrelated to the hearing system, such as anemia, cardiovascular problems, chronic nervous system diseases, metabolic diseases, chewing disorders, and spine pathologies. Even inflammation of the respiratory tract, such as sinusitis or colds, can lead to tinnitus.
  4. Lifestyle Factors: Heavy smokers may also experience tinnitus as nicotine can cause a lack of oxygen in the inner ear area, leading to the appearance of whistling sounds.

In rare cases, tinnitus is objective, meaning it can be heard by an external examiner. This type of tinnitus is caused by actual noises generated by physiological phenomena affecting structures adjacent to the ear.

Symptoms of Tinnitus

Tinnitus can be unilateral (perceptible in only one ear) or bilateral. Sometimes, it may seem like the sound is coming from inside the head. Tinnitus can manifest as high-pitched sounds or more serious hums or squeaks. It can be pulsating, continuous, or intermittent.

Image describing ringing in the ears

Tinnitus can be accompanied by decreased hearing, a sensation of a stuffy ear, or resonance of one's own voice. In some cases, it can lead to complete hearing loss, dizziness, ear pain, discharge from the ear, and neurological symptoms. It can affect daily activities and predispose individuals to anxiety disorders, depression, or insomnia.

Diagnosing Tinnitus

Diagnosing tinnitus can be challenging given its subjective nature. However, several diagnostic strategies are available:

  • Audiometric Test: This test is used to identify a potential trigger for tinnitus, although it's not always possible to find one.
  • Movement Test: The doctor examines the movements of the patient's eyes, jaw, neck, and limbs. If these movements affect the intensity of the ringing, it can guide the diagnosis towards a specific cause.
  • Imaging Tests: CT or MRI scans may be performed to rule out serious underlying conditions such as tumors.

Despite these diagnostic strategies, pinpointing the exact cause of tinnitus remains a complex task. Therefore, many treatments focus on relieving symptoms rather than addressing the root cause.

Managing and Treating Tinnitus

Resolving tinnitus is only possible when the underlying cause can be identified and treated. However, since determining the cause is often difficult, most treatments aim to manage the symptoms.

Keep in mind that the advice and suggestions provided here are intended to be general guidelines for managing tinnitus, they should not replace professional medical advice.

Here are some strategies that may help manage tinnitus:


  1. Limit exposure to loud noises: Avoid high-intensity sound sources as much as possible.
  2. Mask the ringing: In quiet environments, low-volume background noise can help distract from the tinnitus.
  3. Practice relaxation techniques: Meditation, yoga, and pilates can help reduce stress, which can exacerbate tinnitus.
  4. Elevate your head while sleeping: Using a couple of pillows or raising the head-end of your mattress can help reduce ringing in the ears.
  5. Consider earplugs: For some, earplugs may help manage tinnitus.
  6. Explore alternative therapies: Acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, and hypnosis may provide relief for some individuals.


  1. Avoid alcohol: Alcohol can cause blood vessel dilation, increasing blood flow to the inner ear.
  2. Avoid smoking
  3. Limit certain medications: Overuse of loop diuretics, NSAIDs, and salicylates can cause tinnitus.
  4. Avoid chaotic environments: Crowded and noisy places can aggravate tinnitus.
  5. Avoid loud music through earphones

Medical Treatments

In cases where a specific cause can be identified, treatment should be directed at that trigger. For the majority of cases where the cause is unknown, treatment is symptomatic. This may include:

  • Hypertension medication: If tinnitus is linked to blood pressure changes.
  • Antibiotics: If tinnitus is caused by bacterial infections.
  • Antidepressants: Tinnitus can significantly impact quality of life, leading to depression in some cases.

Some medications can cause tinnitus. In such cases, after identifying the problematic drug, the doctor may adjust the dosage or replace it with a similar medication. Such changes should only be made under medical supervision.

Natural Remedies

Several natural remedies may offer relief from tinnitus:

  • Gingko (Ginkgo biloba): Known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties, gingko extract may alleviate tinnitus symptoms.
  • Ballota or black horehound (Ballota foetida): This plant has anxiolytic, sedative, and relaxing properties.
  • Actea racemosa (Cimicifuga racemosa): While primarily used for menopause symptoms, this plant may also help with tinnitus.


To reduce the risk of developing tinnitus, consider the following:

  • Regularly clean your ears to prevent earwax buildup.
  • Wear hearing protection in loud environments.
  • Follow safety standards in noisy workplaces.
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure levels.


Living with tinnitus can be challenging, but understanding the condition and implementing effective management strategies can significantly improve quality of life. Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and treatment options. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and help is available.

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The Wellyme Team

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