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Tinnitus

Tinnitus is the name for hearing noises that are not caused by sounds coming from the outside world. It is common and not usually a sign of anything serious. It might get better by itself and there are treatments that can help.

Check if you have tinnitus

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.

Non-urgent advice: 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, or is making you feel anxious and depressed
  • you have tinnitus that beats in time with your pulse
Information:

Coronavirus update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during coronavirus

Urgent advice: Call 999 or go to A&E if you have tinnitus:

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

What happens at your appointment

The GP will look in your ears to see if your tinnitus is caused by something they can treat, like 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.

Things you can try to help cope with tinnitus

Do

Don’t

  • do not have total silence – listening to soft music or sounds (called sound therapy) may distract you from the tinnitus

  • do not focus on it, as this can make it worse – hobbies and activities may take your mind off it

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

RNID also has a free helpline on 0808 808 0123.

Treatments for tinnitus

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 unclear if tinnitus retraining therapy works for everyone. It's widely available privately.

If tinnitus is causing you hearing loss, hearing aids may be recommended.

Causes of tinnitus

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

Video: tinnitus (BSL version)

In this video, learn about tinnitus, its possible causes and the effects and how to deal with it.

Media last reviewed: 19 June 2018
Media review due: 19 June 2021

Page last reviewed: 2 October 2020
Next review due: 2 October 2023