Tinnitus: Ringing or Whistling Noise in Ears

Tinnitus is the name for a high-pitched ringing or whistling or roaring or clicking sound in your ear. It is estimated that the condition affects around 20% of the world population. There is no external source for the sound and it appears to be coming from within your head.

Tinnitus is a painful condition that causes ear pain, extreme discomfort and curtails the ability to listen to sound. Musician Eric Clapton, who suffers from hearing loss and tinnitus because of playing at rock concerts, states that if he listens to any music, it's only soft classical music so that he does not damage his hearing any further.

What does tinnitus sound like?

Tinnitus is a long continuous high-pitched sound that can last from anywhere between a few seconds or can last throughout your life. Some people may be familiar with the sound that plays when a television signal goes off or the sound of a seashell when it is held close to the ear; tinnitus sounds similar to that sound.

The video below contains sounds of tinnitus as experienced by people who suffer from it.

Occasionally hearing a high-pitched whine in your ears is fairly normal and almost everyone experiences hearing this sound in their lifetime. Often, when you are exposed to very loud noise, such as bursting of loud firecrackers, you will experience tinnitus that lasts for some seconds or minutes. This sound goes away on its own and is usually not a cause for worry.

Tinnitus may worsen as a person ages and experiences hearing loss.

Persistent tinnitus

Tinnitus that is continuous, does not go away on its own and causes discomfort or dizziness may denote an underlying cause, such as loss of hearing, ear damage or a disease of the brain, ear or the circulatory system.

Consult an ENT specialist immediately if you experience these symptoms to check if the underlying cause is a serious medical condition that requires treatment. If tinnitus occurs after an infection of the respiratory tract, talk to your doctor.

Age-related tinnitus

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan

Age-related hearing loss is by far the most common cause of tinnitus, along with noise-induced hearing loss. Although tinnitus can occur at any age, there is greater prevalence of tinnitus in older adults; it starts appearing more frequently in adults above the age of 40 and increases as the person grows older.

Former American president Ronald Reagan, scientist Charles Darwin, comedian Steve Martin and singer Bob Dylan are some famous personalities who suffered/suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus.

Types of tinnitus

There are two types of tinnitus:

OBJECTIVE: This type of tinnitus can be heard by doctors when they examine you. Examples include hearing the sound of your jaw moving and the sound of blood circulating through your system. This type of tinnitus is rare and one cause can be a problem with your circulatory system.

SUBJECTIVE: This is the more common form of tinnitus where no one except you can hear the sounds. The sound is created when there are problems with the outer ear, the inner ear (and cochlea) or the middle ear.

Causes of tinnitus

Image credit: Wikipedia

Image credit: Wikipedia

The most common causes for tinnitus are age-related hearing loss and exposure to noise.

Other causes can be buildup of excessive ear wax, head injury, nutritional deficiency (for example, iron deficiency), stress and anxiety, use of certain drugs and medicines, spasms or bone changes in the middle ear and problems with the circulatory system.

Treating tinnitus

Wearing hearing aids corrects hearing loss as well as a common underlying cause of tinnitus

Wearing hearing aids corrects hearing loss as well as a common underlying cause of tinnitus

While there is no one-shot medication course or medical treatment that can cure tinnitus, there are a number of treatments to alleviate the condition. Your healthcare professional may recommend any of the following based on medical history and underlying causes:

  • Correcting hearing loss by wearing hearing aids.
  • Treating underlying conditions, such as buildup of earwax or injury to the ear.
  • Providing medicines for managing discomfort.
  • Suggesting masking devices, such as white noise generators, to suppress tinnitus.

Living with tinnitus

Apart from medical treatment, you can take your own steps to make living with tinnitus easier:

  • Identify what worsens your tinnitus. Certain food types, drinks (for example, caffeine-based beverages) or smoking can bring on tinnitus. Avoid anything that causes tinnitus to worsen.
  • Protect your hearing from loud noises. For example, avoid being near places where firecrackers are being burst.
  • Use white-noise makers to create a soothing environment in quiet situations as tinnitus is often more noticeable in these environments.
  • Use techniques such as meditation and yoga to calm stress and prevent sleeplessness.

Ask your audiologist or doctor for techniques that can help you train yourself with living with tinnitus and improve the condition.

Disclaimer: The treatments and methods outlined in this article are not a substitute for medical advice/opinion and are not meant to replace such advice. Please consult your healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment of any condition.


Quadio has on board a team of highly-qualified audiologists trained in hearing health management. Call us on 1-800-2333-999 or write to us at customercare@quadio.in to get help with managing hearing loss.