Book an appointment
Book a free appointment with one of our experts at a store near you.
What happens in a hearing test?
Understand what happens at your free hearing test with Boots Hearingcare

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus can take various forms, ranging from subtle background noise to a more pronounced and bothersome sensation. It can arise suddenly or develop gradually, with potential triggers including exposure to loud noises, age-related hearing loss, and certain medical conditions. Regardless of how it starts, tinnitus can significantly impact your daily life, causing distress and discomfort. 

If you've ever experienced a persistent ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound in your ears without an external source, you may be dealing with tinnitus. This condition affects a significant number of individuals in the UK, making it relatively common.

Updated: 7th May 2024

What are the symptoms of Tinnitus?

Tinnitus symptoms can differ significantly from one person to another. The primary symptom of tinnitus is the perception of sounds that have no external source, such as hearing ringing, buzzing, hissing, or roaring in your ears. However, the specifics of what you hear can vary widely.

Here's how tinnitus symptoms can differ:

  • Sound variations: the phantom noises can range from subtle hissing and waves crashing to more pronounced roaring, buzzing, whistling, or ringing. What you hear is unique to your experience.
  • Volume fluctuations: the volume of these phantom sounds may fluctuate, varying in intensity from moment to moment. For some, it remains constant, while others may experience intermittent changes.
  • Duration: tinnitus symptoms may be continuous or episodic, with the noises coming and going at different times.

In addition to these primary symptoms, tinnitus can also be accompanied by secondary effects:

  • Hearing changes: some individuals with tinnitus notice a decline in their overall hearing ability.
  • Sensitivity to sounds: tinnitus can lead to hyperacusis, a heightened sensitivity to everyday sounds, making them seem louder or more bothersome than before.

What does Tinnitus sound like?

Tinnitus can present itself as a bewildering array of sounds, each as unique as the individuals who experience them. These phantom sounds often take centre stage in the lives of those affected, influencing their daily routines and emotional well-being. 

Here, we provide a glimpse into what tinnitus sounds can be like:

Ringing Imagine a noticeable, high-pitched ringing that seems to emerge from deep within your ears. It can be as delicate as a faint bell or as resonant as a telephone ringtone.
Buzzing Picture the sound of bees buzzing near your ear or the vibration of a mobile phone on a hard surface. This buzzing sensation can be both distracting and distressing.
Hissing Think of the soft, continuous hiss of air escaping from a tyre or the gentle sound of water softly simmering on the stove. Hissing tinnitus can create a constant auditory backdrop.
Roaring Envision the rush of ocean waves crashing onto the shore or the powerful engine of a distant aeroplane. Roaring tinnitus can be overpowering, making it a challenge to concentrate.
Pulsating Picture a rhythmic beat, similar to a drum or a metronome, in your ears. Pulsating tinnitus can sync with your heartbeat adding an extra layer of complexity.
Clicking Imagine the sharp intermittent click of a camera shutter or the sound of a pen tapping against a surface. Clicking tinnitus, can be irregular and unpredictable.

Online hearing test

Are you curious about your hearing health? Take our quick and easy online hearing test to assess your hearing abilities. It's a simple way to gain valuable insights into your auditory well-being. Click below to start your test and embark on your journey to better hearing today.

Try our online test
online hearing test

What causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus can stem from a number of underlying things, making its origin a complex puzzle to solve. 

Below, we look into the diverse causes that contribute to tinnitus:

1. Noise exposure: prolonged exposure to loud noises, such as concerts, industrial machinery, or firearms, can damage the delicate structures of the inner ear and trigger tinnitus.

2. Age-Related hearing loss: as we age, the natural wear and tear on our auditory system can lead to age-related hearing loss, often accompanied by tinnitus.

3. Earwax blockage: earwax build-up can obstruct the ear canal, affecting hearing and potentially causing tinnitus symptoms.

4. Medical conditions: various medical conditions, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disorders, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues, can contribute to tinnitus.

5. Medications: certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, and some antidepressants, may cause tinnitus as a side effect.

6. Ear and sinus infections: infections of the ear or sinuses can disrupt the auditory system and result in temporary or persistent tinnitus.

7. Head and neck injuries: trauma to the head or neck can impact the auditory system and lead to tinnitus.

8. Meniere's disease: this inner ear disorder can cause tinnitus, along with vertigo and hearing loss.

9. Stress and anxiety: high levels of stress or anxiety can aggravate tinnitus or make it more noticeable.

10. Ear bone changes: abnormal bone growth in the middle ear, known as otosclerosis, can contribute to tinnitus.

Does Tinnitus cause hearing loss?

Tinnitus can coexist with hearing loss, often occurring as a symptom of an underlying auditory impairment. However, it's essential to recognise that tinnitus can also exist on its own. 

Understanding this distinction will help individuals to address both conditions proactively, seeking tailored management options to enhance their overall auditory well-being and quality of life.

Types of Tinnitus

Tinnitus can be categorised into various types based on its characteristics and underlying causes. Here are the different types of tinnitus:

Subjective Tinnitus: the most common type, where only the individual experiencing it can hear the sounds.

Objective Tinnitus: a rare form where both the affected person and a healthcare provider can hear the sounds, often due to vascular or muscular issues.

Pulsatile Tinnitus: characterised by rhythmic or pulsating sounds, typically synchronised with the individual's heartbeat.

Non-Pulsatile Tinnitus: the more common form, where the sounds are continuous and not related to the heartbeat.

Somatic Tinnitus: triggered or modulated by movements of the head, neck, or jaw.

Neurological Tinnitus: resulting from a disorder within the nervous system, often associated with a perceived clicking or cracking sound.

Musical Tinnitus (Musical Ear Syndrome): involves hearing music or melodies without an external source, often occurring in individuals with hearing loss.

Objective Palatal Tinnitus: rare and caused by spasms in the muscles near the ear.

Vascular Tinnitus: linked to blood flow disturbances, often producing a swooshing or rushing sound.

Tonal Tinnitus: characterised by hearing a single pure tone or multiple distinct tones.

These types of tinnitus can vary in how they present themselves. Therefore, a thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional is essential for proper diagnosis and management.

Main types of tinnitus

What is subjective tinnitus?

Subjective tinnitus is the most prevalent form and is characterised by hearing sounds such as buzzing, hissing, or ringing that lack an obvious source of where they’re coming from. It typically affects only the individual experiencing it. 

This type of tinnitus often results from communication irregularities between the auditory nerves and the brain, or underlying issues within the ear.

What is subjective tinnitus?

Objective tinnitus differs from its subjective counterpart in that the perceived sounds, like buzzing, hissing, or ringing, synchronise with the rhythm of the individual's heartbeat. This phenomenon, known as pulsatile tinnitus, is often linked to constriction in blood flow around the head, neck, or ears. 

It could also be a potential indicator of an underlying medical condition, making it crucial to get help and guidance from a healthcare professional.

What is pulsatile tinnitus?

Pulsatile tinnitus, although rare, presents a unique characteristic - the buzzing, hissing, or ringing sounds are not only heard by the person affected but can also be detected by those nearby. 

Typically, objective tinnitus is associated with muscle contractions or the narrowing of blood vessels in the ear, resulting in the production of audible sounds. 

Side effects of Tinnitus

Beyond the auditory sensations, tinnitus ampfily a number of various side effects, further complicating the daily lives of those affected. 

Various side effects of tinnitus include:

  • Fatigue: tinnitus can lead to persistent fatigue due to the constant perception of noise. The mental strain of managing the sound, especially in quieter environments, can be physically exhausting, leaving individuals feeling drained.
  • Stress: living with tinnitus often induces stress. The relentless noise can trigger anxiety and frustration, affecting overall mental well-being. 
  • Loss of sleep: the sounds may become more noticeable in the quiet of the night, making it challenging to fall asleep or stay asleep. Sleep deprivation can further exacerbate other tinnitus-related symptoms.
  • Dizziness: in some cases, tinnitus is associated with dizziness or balance issues, leading to a sense of unsteadiness. This can significantly impact an individual's quality of life, making activities that require balance more challenging.

How is Tinnitus diagnosed?

When tinnitus becomes a part of your life, seeking a proper diagnosis is essential. Whether it's a recent development, a sudden onset, or a long-standing issue, consulting your GP is the first step towards understanding and managing tinnitus. 

Here's what you can expect from the diagnosis process:

  • Consult your GP: if you experience tinnitus, your will be able to provide an assessment and diagnosis.
  • Symptom evaluation: your GP will review your symptoms, inquiring about:

- Affected ear(s)
- Sound continuity
- Impact on hearing

  • Medical history: your medical history will be discussed.
  • Ear examination: your doctor will use an otoscope to examine your ears, checking for issues like earwax buildup or infections.
  • Further investigation: if only one ear is affected without an apparent cause, your GP may refer you for an MRI or CT scan to explore potential underlying causes.

How to treat Tinnitus

While there is no definitive cure for tinnitus, there are various ways to effectively manage and find relief from its symptoms. 

Here are several approaches for tinnitus relief and symptom management:

Earwax removal

In some cases, excessive earwax can contribute to tinnitus. Professional earwax removal by a doctor or hearing care specialist can provide relief.

Medication adjustments

If medications are suspected of triggering your tinnitus, your doctor may recommend altering your medication and monitoring its effects.

White noise or sound therapy

Masking the intrusive tinnitus sounds with background noise from sources like the TV, radio, or natural sounds, can significantly reduce their prominence.

Hearing aids

For those with intermittent tinnitus or who don't constantly notice it, hearing aids equipped with tinnitus sound adjustments can be beneficial.

Counselling and therapy

tinnitus can be distressing, impacting daily life. Therapies like Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help individuals alter their perception and response to it
Your GP will help determine the most suitable treatment strategies for your unique tinnitus experience. Remember, there's no need to deal with tinnitus alone; help is always available.

For more insights, visit our earwax removal page, as excessive earwax can sometimes contribute to tinnitus.

5 tips for how to sleep with Tinnitus

Tinnitus can often disturb your sleep, but with these tips, you can improve your nighttime rest and wake up feeling refreshed:

  • Background noise: using a white noise machine or soothing sounds like rainfall or ocean waves to mask the tinnitus noise. This gentle audio backdrop can make it easier to fall asleep.


  • Relaxation techniques: incorporate relaxation methods like deep breathing exercises or meditation into your bedtime routine. Reducing stress can help calm your mind and minimise tinnitus disruption.


  • Limit stimulants: avoid caffeine and nicotine in the hours leading up to bedtime. These substances can exacerbate tinnitus symptoms and interfere with sleep.


  • Create a comfortable sleep environment: ensure your sleeping space is comfortable, has a supportive mattress, and cosy bedding. A dark, quiet room can make a significant difference too.

By implementing these strategies, you can create a more serene sleep environment and enjoy uninterrupted nights.

If tinnitus continues to disrupt your sleep despite trying these tips, consult a healthcare professional or audiologist for tailored advice and solutions.

hearing aids

Hearing aids for Tinnitus

For those experiencing intermittent or less noticeable tinnitus, hearing aids offer a valuable solution. These advanced devices are equipped with tinnitus programs designed to provide relief.

Hearing aids with tinnitus programs can effectively mask tinnitus sounds by emitting their soothing sounds. You can easily customise these sounds through a button, remote control, or smartphone app. By doing so, you engage your brain with alternative sounds, making the tinnitus less conspicuous.

To explore how hearing aids can assist you in managing tinnitus, don't hesitate to reach out to our team of hearing healthcare professionals. They can provide tailored guidance and solutions to help you find the relief you seek.

Frequently asked questions

Is there a cure for tinnitus?

There’s currently no scientifically proven cure for tinnitus. However, there are a variety of treatments, devices, and techniques that you can use to ease tinnitus symptoms, such as sound therapy, CBT, and hearing aids. 

Of course, always consult your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.

Can tinnitus go away?

If the tinnitus is caused by blockage, your doctor will be able to treat it and alleviate your symptoms. However, on most occasions, that ringing in your ears will stick around, so finding ways to relieve or manage the symptoms is also important. 

Your GP will be able to advise the best course of action for you.

Can stress cause tinnitus?

Periods of significant anxiety or stress can trigger tinnitus, and stress can make symptoms worse or more noticeable.

Many people with tinnitus find that they suffer from stress, especially when the ringing in their ears gets unbearable, and this can make the symptoms worse. So it’s important to take care of your mental health as well as your physical health to manage symptoms. 

For advice on managing stress when you have tinnitus, speak to a doctor or hearing specialist like one of our audiologists here at Boots Hearingcare.

Is tinnitus a disability?

Yes. Tinnitus can be a long-term, debilitating condition even with treatment. It may take some effort to get past the effects of tinnitus, and this will need to be maintained to manage the condition. 

However, keep in mind that the type of tinnitus you have will play a role in any disability benefits process.

Can tinnitus cause headaches?

There’s evidence to suggest a link between tinnitus and headaches, with some tinnitus symptoms appearing at the same time as symptoms of disorders such as migraines.

However, not every tinnitus sufferer will experience headaches, and not everyone who suffers from headaches will experience tinnitus symptoms. So it’s not possible to definitively say that tinnitus causes headaches.

Can tinnitus cause dizziness?

While tinnitus and dizziness can sometimes occur together, tinnitus itself doesn’t cause dizziness. 

If you’re suffering from tinnitus and dizziness, it may be that they indicate an underlying condition, such as Ménière’s disease or a problem with your inner ear.

Get any symptoms checked by your doctor, so they can investigate any possible causes and advise you on any treatment.

Why is my tinnitus worse when I lay down?

Tinnitus can sometimes seem more pronounced when you lie down due to the absence of external noises, making the internal sounds more noticeable. Additionally, changes in blood flow when transitioning to a lying position can affect tinnitus. Background noise or relaxation techniques can help alleviate this issue.

Why is my tinnitus getting louder?

Tinnitus’ loudness can vary for numerous reasons, including exposure to loud noises, changes in blood pressure, or underlying health conditions. Consult a healthcare provider to determine the cause of increased tinnitus loudness and explore suitable management strategies.

Can ear wax cause tinnitus?

It’s possible that earwax can cause tinnitus; if it blocks your ear canal, ringing in the ear can be a side effect. However, this can be remedied: any build-up can be professionally removed by your GP, and the symptoms associated with tinnitus - such as hissing, ringing, or roaring sounds - should be relieved as a result.

Will my tinnitus go away after removing ear wax?

If your tinnitus is caused by earwax build-up or impaction, once the earwax has been removed, your symptoms should improve and eventually ease. Any removal should always be done professionally to protect your ear canal and eardrum.

emma jarvis

Written By:
Emma Jarvis

Digital Optimisation Lead

Author Image

Medically Reviewed By:
Kuraisha Govender
Audiology Expert