Noises in the ears with no external source – tinnitus – affects about one in five people, and become increasingly common after the age of 60.

The sounds of tinnitus – ringing, whistling, buzzing, click or hissing – are usually intermittent, mild and noticed mainly in quiet conditions, such as in bed. Occasionally tinnitus is constant, and may be severe enough to disrupt sleep and concentration.

Tinnitus can occur on its own, following exposure to loud noise, or it may accompany hearing loss, the inner ear disorder Meniere’s disease, ear infection, earwax or circulatory disorders. It may be a side effect of medications, , particularly aspirin. Your doctor can check for an underlying cause. If tinnitus bother you, it may be improved by:

  • Reducing stress.
  • Avoiding alcohol and caffeine.
  • Following a low-salt diet.
  • Using external sound – music, or ‘white noise’ devices – to mask the noise. This can aid sleep.
  • A hearing aid (in tinnitus with hearing loss).

  • Your doctor may also give you antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs. In severe cases, you may be offered tinnitus re-training: this involves having programmed sound to mask individual tinnitus frequencies, and counseling to help you switch focus.