Your Health A-Z

Tinnitus

If your ears are ringing right now you may have a common condition called tinnitus. Here is what you need to know.

Snap, click, crackle, buzz, ring and pop. These are all the subjective sounds that patients with tinnitus might report being plagued by. Dr Johannes Claassen, an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist from Mediclinic Bloemfontein, tells us what the buzz is all about and how to try to silence it.

Tinnitus is what people commonly call ‘ringing in the ears’. Basically it’s when you experience an internal sound or auditory perception that lasts longer than five minutes when there isn’t any obvious outside cause or stimulation. It is not a disease, but it’s often a symptom of one.

Tinnitus could indicate a disease

Some examples of diseases or conditions that are known to cause the problem are noise-induced hearing loss, Ménière’s disease (a disorder of the inner ear), endocrine metabolic disease, vascular tumours and cardiovascular disease. It’s important to rule these and other serious diseases out when investigating a chronic case of ringing in the ears.

It is common

According to studies, about 32% of adults in the US have experienced ringing in their ears, but it’s actually much more common than general statistics would have us believe. Almost all people have had or will have an episode of some form of ringing in their ears at some stage during their lives. The good news is that debilitating tinnitus is rare – only 0.5% of patients with the condition are prevented from living a normal life.

The cause is not clear

There are many things about tinnitus that we don’t yet know or fully understand. What we do know is that it is often caused by a number of factors, and not necessarily arising from the ear. We know that the central nervous system plays a part, and that complicates the management of these patients. High-tone tinnitus is often due to hearing loss which is associated with ageing. However, tinnitus can occur at any age.

You can treat the disease or the symptom

We look for a cause. If we find a disease or condition causing the tinnitus, we treat that. However, for a large contingent of tinnitus sufferers there is no obvious identifiable cause. In that case, we have to treat the symptom and the course of treatment will vary widely, depending on an individual’s type and severity of tinnitus. Some examples of treatment include prescription medication, psychotherapy, electric or magnetic stimulation and even herbal remedies like gingko biloba. To explain the condition to the patient is of critical importance.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.