Tinnitus is the name for ringing in the ears or hearing sounds in your head. It may be continuous or it may come and go. It is only heard by the sufferer and not by those around them. Usually it takes the form of a swishing or whining sound, but may vary in pitch and intensity, and in one or both ears. Whatever form the sounds take, they are distressing and may affect your ability to hear other sounds and otherwise live a normal life.

The sounds may arise from damage to the structures or nerves of the inner ear, beyond the ear drum. It may also be caused by substances in the ear canal, such as fluid, excessive ear wax or other obstructions, and removal of these substances may ease the condition. Other causes of tinnitus include aspirin or other medicines in excessive doses, exposure to persistent loud noises or other conditions that affect the inner ear, such as dental or sinus conditions.

The elderly are more at risk of tinnitus, as the nerves become less able to recover from any damage, and so are more likely to be affected by hearing distressing noises and other hearing disorders. 

Treatments for tinnitus depend on the cause, if known. For many people the cause is unknown, and treatment for them is more difficult. The first step is to determine if there is any obstruction or substance in the outer ear causing the problem. If there is, then removal of the irritant will generally ease the sounds and cure the condition. 

Other people that have tinnitus caused by dental problems need to address this with dental treatment or examination by a dentist, including X-rays to see if sinus or dental infections are causing pressure or the disturbance to the inner ear. Similarly it is also important to exclude other medical conditions that may cause tinnitus, so consult a doctor to check if this is the case.

When there is damage to the nerves or structures of the inner ear, or where the cause is unknown, treatment options may not always be successful in curing tinnitus. Other treatments to deal with the stress of living with constant sounds disturbing their activities of daily living may be helping in easing, if not necessarily curing the condition.

The least invasive treatments include counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy to change the way that you react to the sounds.  Other treatments include sound generators, hearing aids, or some medications that dampen down nerve endings and also help with the anxiety and depression that may accompany this condition.

If you or any of your family members or friends complain of hearing persistent sounds then talk to your community pharmacist. They can check out likely problems and causes, and give you products and advice to help in the early stages of this condition. They can also refer you to appropriate health professionals to help identify the cause of the tinnitus, and help you to limit the effect of this condition on your life and of those around you.