There's not usually a quick fix for tinnitus, but it will often improve gradually over time. A number of treatments are available to help you cope.
If your tinnitus is caused by an underlying health condition, treating the condition will help stop or reduce the sounds you hear.
For example, if your tinnitus is caused by an earwax build-up, eardrops or ear irrigation may be used. Ear irrigation involves using a pressurised flow of water to remove the earwax.
Read more about how an earwax build-up is treated.
However, in many cases a cause for tinnitus can't be found, so treatments will be used to help you manage the problem on a daily basis. These are described below.
Correcting hearing loss
Any degree of hearing loss you have should be addressed because straining to listen can make tinnitus worse.
Correcting even fairly minor hearing loss means the parts of the brain involved in hearing don't have to work as hard and therefore don't pay as much attention to the tinnitus.
A specialist will test your hearing and recommend appropriate treatment. This could involve having a hearing aid fitted, and occasionally surgery.
Improving your hearing will also mean sounds you wouldn't otherwise hear will now be audible, which may help override the sounds of your tinnitus.
Read more about treating hearing loss.
Tinnitus is often most noticeable in quiet environments. The aim of "sound therapy" or "sound enrichment" is to fill any silence with neutral sounds to distract you from the sound of tinnitus.
This may involve simple measures such as opening a window to hear noises coming from outside, leaving a radio or television on, or listening to sounds on a portable music player.
You can get specially-designed sound generators that look similar to a radio. These produce quiet natural sounds, such as leaves rustling in the wind and waves lapping on the shore. White noise generators are similar devices that produce a continuous "shushing" sound at a level that's comfortable and soothing.
Also available are pillows containing built-in speakers to help distract you from tinnitus when you go to sleep, and small sound-generator devices that fit in your ear like a hearing aid. Some hearing aids have built-in sound generators for people with tinnitus.
Understanding tinnitus plays an important part in learning how to cope with the condition and manage it more effectively.
Tinnitus counseling is a type of therapy where you work with a healthcare professional to help you learn more about your tinnitus and find ways of coping with it. It's usually carried out by hearing therapists, audiologists (hearing disorder specialists) or doctors.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often used to treat mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. It's based on the idea that your thoughts affect the way you behave. Treatment aims to retrain the way you think to change your behaviour.
This technique can be effectively applied to tinnitus. For example, if your knowledge about tinnitus is limited, you may have certain ideas about it that make you feel anxious and depressed. This can make your tinnitus worse.
Changing the way you think about your tinnitus and what you do about it can help reduce your anxiety and enable you to accept the noises, which after a while may become less noticeable.
Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT)
Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) is a special type of therapy that aims to help retrain the way your brain responds to tinnitus so you start to tune the sound out and become less aware of it. The therapy involves a combination of more intensive sound therapy and long-term counselling.
TRT is widely available privately and may be available on the NHS for people with very severe or persistent tinnitus. It should only be carried out by someone specially trained in the technique.
Some people find self-help techniques useful for managing their tinnitus. These techniques include:
- relaxation – stress can make your tinnitus worse, so relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and yoga may help
- listening to music – calming music and sounds may help you relax and fall asleep at bedtime
- sleep hygiene – if tinnitus is affecting your sleep, sleep hygiene measures such as sticking to a regular sleep pattern and avoiding caffeine or alcohol shortly before going to bed may help
- hobbies and activities – having a hobby or regularly participating in any activity you find enjoyable may help distract you from tinnitus
- support groups – sharing your experiences with others who have tinnitus may help you cope better
Action on Hearing Loss has a tinnitus forum and provides further details about support and activities in your local area. Their free information line telephone number is 0808 808 0123.
You may also find the British Tinnitus Association a useful source of information. You can call their confidential helpline free of charge on 0800 018 0527.