Do you hear phantom sounds?

Do these sounds disturb your ability to concentrate, or make it difficult for you to sleep? 

If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, then you may be experiencing a condition called tinnitus

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a hearing health condition that causes people to hear sounds that are not actually there.

What type of sounds do people hear?

Ringing is the classic tinnitus sound, but the sounds do differ depending on the individual. Buzzing, clicking, beeping, ticking, whistling and hissing are all fairly common. The type of sound may also change. 

How loud are tinnitus sounds?

You may only be able to hear the sound faintly, or the sounds may be loud and pronounced – it varies depending on the individual. 

Can I have tinnitus if I only hear these sounds occasionally?

Yes, tinnitus sounds tend to vary in intensity, or may only be noticeable at certain times of the day. For example, many people only notice their tinnitus sounds when they are in a quiet environment or are trying to sleep. Others may hear the sounds continually. 

What causes tinnitus?

The most common cause of tinnitus is sensorineural hearing loss, which usually occurs due to age or exposure to loud sounds. In some instances, tinnitus can also be caused by conductive hearing loss, which develops due to an obstruction in the ear (such as earwax buildup) and prevents sound ranges from reaching the inner ear.

Less commonly, tinnitus can be a symptom of a general health condition such as diabetes or hypertension. The condition can also be related to certain medications, such as erythromycin, methotrexate or diuretics.

Will tinnitus resolve itself?

While some cases of tinnitus do spontaneously resolve, this depends on the cause of the condition. For example, if you have fluid buildup in the ear as a result of a cold or the flu, then this may temporarily be causing conductive hearing loss. When the virus subsides, and the fluid clears, the tinnitus sounds you are hearing may subsequently vanish. Similarly, if your tinnitus is due to medication, then the problem may cease if you switch to a different type of medication, and treating an underlying health condition can also lead to tinnitus resolving.

However, if none of the above apply, then you may need to seek specific tinnitus treatment.

How is tinnitus treated?

  • If you are experiencing hearing loss as well as tinnitus, then hearing aids can be an effective treatment for both conditions. 
  • You can also use hearing aids with tinnitus-masking features even if you do not have hearing loss. 
  • Sound machines that are designed to mask tinnitus sounds can also be beneficial, particularly at times when hearing aids are not suitable (such as when you are trying to sleep) 
  • A combination therapy known as tinnitus retraining therapy uses both masking technology and talking therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, to treat tinnitus.

How can I access treatment?

If you believe you are experiencing tinnitus, then scheduling an appointment with an audiologist is usually the best first step. Your audiologist will be able to test your hearing to get a full overview of your hearing health, and can also assist with selecting the right treatment for your needs and preferences.