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If you suddenly hear whistling, whooshing, or buzzing in your ear, the first step is to stay calm. While tinnitus is unpleasant, it’s not a symptom of a serious illness. The good news is that suddenly occurring tinnitus usually disappears on its own before long. But what should you do if the whistling or whooshing noises in your ear just won’t go away? The most important thing is to obtain a precise diagnosis of the causes of the sound in the ear. There are various treatment options, depending on the situation.

Noise in the ear: What's next?

Occasionally hearing sounds such as buzzing or whistling in the ear can happen. Important: If the noise in your ear lasts longer than 24 hours, you should seek the advice of an ear nose and throat (ENT) doctor, and the sooner the better, so that they can identify and start you on the right treatment option in good time. This gives you the best chance of recovery. We have summarized the most important information on treating noise in the ear below.

For those affected by chronic tinnitus (symptoms persist for longer than twelve months), the situation is somewhat different and a full recovery is usually not possible, but there are treatment options.

If you are instead looking for general information on the causes of tinnitus, click here.

What will happen when I visit the doctor?

The first, detailed conversation (often referred to as taking medical history) between the patient affected and the ENT doctor or audiologist is a decisive factor in the diagnosis and treatment of noise in the ear. During this conversation, questions are asked about pre-existing conditions, possible triggers, and about the intrusive noise itself. The doctor will also try to assess the level of psychological strain caused by the tinnitus.  You should be prepared to answer the following questions:
  • Do you have any pre-existing conditions?
  • Do you take any medication?
  • When did the noise in your ear first start? Is there anything that may have caused it?
  • Did the tinnitus begin suddenly or has it developed gradually?
  • What does the tinnitus sound like?
  • Was there a potential trigger, such as acoustic trauma, continuous noise, or an unusually stressful situation?
The doctor will then carry out various auditory tests, including a hearing test and a balance test. The ENT doctor can then ascertain whether you also have hearing loss or a disorder of the auditory system.
Lastly, the actual  tinnitus analysis  is carried out, in which the volume and pitch of the noise in your ear is determined. By doing this, the doctor can find out which frequencies the noise covers, and how it can be treated.

What types of tinnitus treatment are there?

Acute tinnitus (up to three months) is treated with  cortisone  or  medication that stimulates circulation. In many cases, it is possible to recover from tinnitus. 

However, there is unfortunately no treatment that can cure noise in the ear if the symptom has persisted for  longer than three months , but there are effective treatment approaches that will help you cope better with chronic tinnitus. The doctor will select the right treatment depending on the type of noise in your ear.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
The most common and successful method used is what is known as tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). The aim of this is for the patient to get to know their chronic tinnitus well enough that, over time, they are able to suppress their perception of it. Or, in other words, through TRT therapy the brain gradually learns to get used to the tinnitus and no longer perceives the noise to be so dominant. In this way, the psychological strain on the person affected can be greatly reduced. Tinnitus retraining therapy is ideally suited to people with slight or chronic noise in the ear. The main prerequisite for successful tinnitus retraining therapy is consistent and active cooperation from the patient. This is also the case for cognitive behavioral therapy. As part of this therapy, with the help of a psychotherapist, the person affected tries to change their perception of the noises so that they become less intrusive.

Some of those affected by chronic tinnitus have also had good experiences with alternative approaches, such as Chinese medicine. It is advisable to talk to other people affected by tinnitus, for example in a self-help group found through the American Tinnitus Association.

The three cornerstones of tinnitus retraining therapy

Number  1: Education and advice. Anyone who has the right information and knows the topic well will find the noises in their ear less threatening.
Number  2: Sound therapy By concentrating on pleasant sounds (fountains, the sounds of nature, music, etc.), the negative noise in the ear will be suppressed into the background.
3 Number  3: Increasing psychological and physical wellbeing. There are various, highly individual approaches to this, from behavioral therapy and counseling through to yoga and tai chi.
Hearing Aids and Noisers
In addition to retraining therapy, your ENT doctor can also recommend a hearing aid with a tinnitus noiser. Hearing aids of this kind work in two ways: They compensate for the hearing loss so that the patient can better perceive external sounds again, and they distract the patient from the annoying whistling or buzzing using pleasant, positively perceived sounds. The fact is, around 80% of those affected by tinnitus are also experiencing hearing loss at the same time. The tinnitus often has exactly the frequency that the patient perceives most poorly.

Tips for dealing with tinnitus

  • Reduce stress and find a relaxation technique that   suits you (autogenic training, yoga, tai chi, etc.).
  • Stop smoking, as nicotine promotes tinnitus.
  • Watch what you eat. And also, alcohol should only be consumed in moderation.
  • Lead an active lifestyle and exercise. Physical activity helps to reduce stress and distracts you from the noises in your ear.
  • Get enough sleep. Well-rested people perceive chronic tinnitus less intensely.
  • Choose activities that you enjoy. This distracts you from the noises in your ear.
  • Always wear hearing protection when you are exposed to noise or loud music.

How can tinnitus be prevented?

  • Avoid the causes and protect your ears:  Avoid excessive noise. Protect your ears if you can’t avoid certain sources of noise at your workplace or in your free time. Use earplugs or special headphones.
  • Avoid excessive stress:  this is because stress promotes the development of unpleasant noises in the ear. It’s better to take things down a gear than to completely break down one day.
  • Don’t hesitate! Go straight to your doctor at the first signs of tinnitus or when it’s acute, because the earlier you seek advice from an ENT doctor or an audiologist when you first hear noises in your ear and are treated with a suitable therapy, the better your chances of recovery.

Additional Articles

Tinnitus – Causes and Symptoms
Getting a Hearing Test
Hearing Protection - An investment in health