Are you or have you ever experienced ringing in your ears? You might be unsure about what it is or what's causing it and perhaps concerned about your hearing. Ringing and other sounds in the ears that have no external source are known as tinnitus. While many people hear this sound as ringing, it can also sound like buzzing, whistling, hissing and various other noises.

When you have a ringing in your ears, it can last for only a short period. Many of us have experienced it after attending a loud concert or perhaps due to a buildup of earwax. However, it can also be a long-term problem. If tinnitus lasts for more than six months, it's known as chronic tinnitus. But what exactly is tinnitus and what causes it?

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus can have a range of causes, and it might not always be clear what is causing it. Most tinnitus is linked to hearing loss, which is why it is more common for people over the age of 55 when they start to lose their hearing as they age. However, there are other possible causes of tinnitus too.

Tinnitus can occur due to some types of medication. In these cases, it's often possible to transition to a different medication to see if the tinnitus will go away. Another possible cause of tinnitus that can be easily treated is earwax. When there is a buildup of earwax, it can affect the hearing and cause a temporary case of tinnitus. Removing the excess earwax can solve the issue.

How is tinnitus diagnosed?

For anyone who is experiencing tinnitus, the first step is to see an audiologist. They will carry out an examination and talk to you about your symptoms. This will help them to find out if there are any underlying medical causes that can be treated. They can also conduct a hearing test to see if you have any hearing loss, which is common for people who have chronic tinnitus.

How is tinnitus treated?

Multiple treatment options are available for tinnitus. The first thing that an audiologist can do is check for underlying causes that can be treated. The right treatment might cure the tinnitus. However, when it comes to chronic tinnitus, the focus is on helping the person to manage and cope with the tinnitus. To do this, several treatments can be explored.

For people who have hearing loss, hearing aids with tinnitus masking features can be worn. They produce sound to mask the tinnitus, helping the wearer to manage the condition. It's also possible to wear a tinnitus-masking device that isn't a hearing aid. 

Sound machines can also be used, particularly at night to encourage sleep. Another treatment is tinnitus retraining therapy, which combines the use of sound masking with psychological therapy to help people with tinnitus to manage stress and anxiety and cope with their symptoms.

If you are experiencing ringing in your ears, make an appointment with your audiologist to discuss your symptoms and find the right treatment.