Symptoms and causes

What is it?

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is a hearing disorder in which sizzling, whistling, buzzing or beeping sounds can be heard in one or both ears, but for which no external source of sound can be found. The sounds heard may vary from person to person. Often tinnitus is only heard when it is very quiet, such as at bedtime. But sometimes tinnitus is much louder and is a real nuisance in everyday life.

Tinnitus after hearing damage does occur, though this is rather rare in our patient population. Most of the patients that we see exhibit little to no hearing damage.

Possible causes

Most people have experienced short periods of tinnitus during their lives. If one’s hearing is exposed to loud noises, such as a music concert, one can temporarily experience some tinnitus.

Many people with tinnitus are convinced, as a result of very one-sided information, that there is irreparable damage to the hair cells in their cochlea. They believe that nothing can be done about tinnitus and many feel insecure and afraid that the tinnitus will worsen.

Usually, there are other factors that maintain and amplify the tinnitus. Sometimes these are middle ear problems, often muscle tension, increased alertness and anxiety also play a role.

Diagnosis and treatment

It is important to look for the right factors that cause, maintain or potentiate tinnitus in a specific patient. There are patients for whom tinnitus cannot be changed, and there are patients for whom tinnitus can be easily treated. In most patients, tinnitus remains after treatment but becomes far less disruptive.

Read all about the diagnosis and treatments for tinnitus.

Treatment centres and specialisations

Ear, nose, and throat diseases

Latest publication date: 11/08/2021
Supervising author: Dr Vermeiren Judith