Tinnitus – from humming to ringing, from buzzing to whooshing

Do you ever experience a sudden ringing or buzzing in your ears that feels like it’s coming from inside? It can range from an irritating mild hum to a loud roaring and is often accompanied by stress, anxiety, and even depression. This mysterious sound is called tinnitus – which literally translates to “ringing in the ears” – and affects up to 30% of adults at some point in their life. For some people it is temporary, however in 8% of people it is permanent. Whether it’s experienced as humming, clicking, hissing or whistling; buzzing, singing or sizzling; beeping or whooshing – understanding how tinnitus works and its treatments can help those struggling with this condition regain their quality of life.

What is tinnitus and what are the most common types of it?

Tinnitus is a condition where one or both ears are constantly hearing sounds that aren’t really there. It can be a very disruptive condition and have many causes, such as stress, aging, excessive noise exposure, certain medications, and jaw problems. The most common types of tinnitus include non-pulsatile (constant) and pulsatile (rhythmic) tinnitus. Non-pulsatile tinnitus tends to occur in a single tone – like a high-pitched ringing sound – whereas pulsatile tinnitus is heard as an intermittent swooshing sound in time with your heartbeat. Regardless of the type of tinnitus experienced, there are several treatment options available to help decrease its severity. Seeing a doctor early on to determine the cause and create a plan for managing the symptoms is vital for reducing negative impacts on quality of life.

Causes of tinnitus and how to diagnose it

Tinnitus can be a sign of an underlying medical issue, such as Meniere’s disease, or age-related hearing loss. The cause of tinnitus can vary and it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact source. Common causes include exposure to loud noises, age-related hearing loss, earwax or foreign object build up in the ear canal, allergies, drug side effects and head injury. Occasionally tinnitus can be caused by a benign tumour affecting the vestibulocochlear nerve, called an acoustic neuroma or vestibular schwannoma. MRI scans are used to provide detailed images of one’s inner ear structures and the vestibulocochlear nerve, and helps identify any structural abnormalities that might be causing the tinnitus symptoms, allowing your doctor to offer more specialized treatments.

Pulsatile tinnitus – a complex situation

Pulsatile tinnitus is a type of tinnitus that pulsates in time with your heartbeat. This type of tinnitus is often caused by an underlying condition, such as blood vessel abnormalities. The investigation of this is more complex and dependent on what your ENT specialist finds when they examine you, therefore we would suggest that you speak to your doctor if you are experiencing this.

Different treatment options available for managing tinnitus

Treatment for tinnitus depends on severity, lifestyle habits and associated conditions. Counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy can help sufferers devise coping strategies, address feelings of distress and problem-solve any issues that arise from the tinnitus. Sound therapy involves exposure to pleasant sounds which are meant to reduce the brain’s focus on the sound of tinnitus. Medications including sedatives, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety drugs are sometimes used in severe cases, but this is not suitable for everyone. Other alternative treatments, such as dietary changes or acupuncture, are also viable options for some people with tinnitus. Whatever treatment suits a person’s particular case best, seeking medical help from specialists is essential in managing tinnitus symptoms successfully.

Tips on how to cope with the symptoms of tinnitus

Coping with the symptoms of tinnitus can be quite difficult, but working out what works best for you and finding a way to relax can make the experience more manageable. One tip is to find some form of background noise that will drown out the tinnitus sounds. Soft white noise, instrumental music or nature recordings are some ideas that you might want to try. Another tip is to practice mindfulness. When thoughts and sensations associated with your tinnitus begin, don’t entertain them: instead practice distraction techniques and focus on your breathing, which will help take your mind off things. Lastly, if stress and emotional wellbeing are affecting how you cope with tinnitus, then explore different relaxation techniques or counselling for additional support. Taking these steps may prove beneficial in reducing and managing the symptoms of tinnitus.

Advice on how to reduce environmental noise exposure, which can worsen symptoms

Reducing your exposure to environmental noise is essential in order to improve or alleviate symptoms of tinnitus. One way to do this is to limit time spent in noisy places or using loud objects such as power tools or engines. If you find yourself in a particularly loud area, wearing ear plugs or protective gear can help lessen the intensity of sound that reaches your ears. Additionally, keeping doors and windows closed when indoors can help block external sounds from entering the environment. Incorporating some white noise machines into either the bedroom or office space may also help balance out random explosions of excessive noises like honking horns and construction projects. It’s important to note though that consistent low background noises, like traffic on a motorway, could be potentially just as harmful as intermittent loud noises. As such, it’s important to set up an environment devoid of any intrusive noise levels by creating barriers between yourself and potential sources of noise pollution whenever possible.

How to talk to your doctor about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for tinnitus

When talking to your doctor about tinnitus, it is important to be prepared. Make a list of all the symptoms you experience and be as detailed as possible when describing them. Talk about when the symptoms began and if there is any particular sound or situation that triggers them. The more information you can provide your doctor, the better they will be able to determine a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. If the tinnitus is one-sided (unilateral), or you have other symptoms such as vertigo or hearing loss, they may recommend an MRI scan. Remember that your doctor has likely seen a variety of patient cases and may have greater insight than you give them credit for, so it’s important to speak openly and honestly with them while still advocating for yourself.


Tinnitus is a complex disorder, with numerous possible causes and symptoms. MRI helps to rule out some of these causes, allowing clinicians to identify the best treatment options available. By knowing which strainers or structures could be causing your issues as well as how they respond to medication, you can make sure that you’re getting the most efficient and effective care possible. Despite its complexity, tinnitus can be managed effectively, and if addressed quickly, even cured. If you have unilateral (one-sided) tinnitus, or if it is combined with vertigo or deafness, don’t wait any longer; book an MRI IAM today and take your first step towards recovery!


Dr. Sarah Laporte

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