Ask the Pharmacist – Tinnitus

Q. I have a constant ringing in my ears since my last live music concert I attended. What exactly is this ringing and what can I do about it?

A. You are describing a case of tinnitus which is often described as ringing, buzzing, or humming in the ears. It is more common than you might think as it affects millions of people worldwide. While it’s not a condition in itself but rather a symptom of an underlying problem, it can significantly impact one’s quality of life. Tinnitus has been known to be severe enough to affect one’s mental health and result in anxiety and/or depression, affect concentration and communication and possibly even cause cognitive decline. Even if your tinnitus isn’t a major issue for you, it can still be very frustrating to be to be afflicted with it. Let’s first describe what exactly tinnitus is and what causes it.

Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the ears or head when no external sound is present. It can manifest as ringing, buzzing, humming, or other noises. Tinnitus can be subjective, heard only by the affected individual, or objective, where the sound can also be heard by others. Subjective tinnitus is more common and often associated with hearing loss or damage to the auditory system. Some of the more common causes are:

  • Age-related hearing loss: As we age, we may experience related changes in the auditory system, including gradual deterioration of the cochlea and associated structures which can lead to tinnitus. This in turn may lead to a decline in hearing sensitivity, making us more susceptible to tinnitus.
  • Noise exposure: Exposure to loud noises, whether from occupational hazards (such as machinery or construction work) or recreational activities (such as concerts or sporting events), can damage the hair cells in the inner ear, leading to tinnitus.
  • Ear conditions: Conditions such as ear infections, earwax buildup, or abnormalities in the middle or inner ear can contribute to tinnitus. Infections or blockages can disrupt the normal functioning of the auditory system, leading to the perception of sound when none is present.
  • Ototoxic medications: Certain medications, known as ototoxic drugs, can damage the delicate structures of the inner ear, leading to tinnitus. Examples include some antibiotics (such as gentamicin), certain chemotherapy drugs, high doses of aspirin, and certain diuretics.
  • Stress and anxiety: While not a direct cause, stress and anxiety can exacerbate tinnitus symptoms or make them more noticeable.
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
  • Head and neck injuries

Unfortunately, in most cases of tinnitus, there is no cure or reversing the symptoms and the only way to live with it is to learn what habits make it worse/better. Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts to help you manage your tinnitus:


1. Protect Your Hearing: Avoid exposure to loud noises, and if exposure is unavoidable, use ear protection such as earplugs or earmuffs. When listening to music/podcasts/books etc, try to keep the volume to a maximum of 50%. Many of us turn up the volume when we hear our favourite tune but make sure you turn it back down to 50% when the song is finished.

2. Manage Stress: Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to reduce stress levels, as stress can exacerbate tinnitus.

3. Maintain Healthy Habits: Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get an adequate amount of sleep to support overall well-being, which can indirectly help manage tinnitus.

4. Use Background Noise: Ambient sounds such as white noise, nature sounds, or soft music can help mask the ringing or buzzing sensation of tinnitus, especially when trying to sleep.

5. Stay Active: Engage in activities that keep your mind occupied and focused, diverting attention away from the tinnitus sounds.

6. Seek Professional Help: Consult with an audiologist or healthcare provider for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.


1. Avoid Excessive Noise: Limit exposure to loud environments such as concerts, clubs, or construction sites, as prolonged exposure can worsen tinnitus or lead to further hearing damage.

2. Say No to Stimulants: Minimize consumption of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, as these substances can aggravate tinnitus symptoms for some individuals.

3. Reduce salt and saturated fats as it is believed to worsen tinnitus symptoms.

4. Skip Ear Care: Avoid inserting objects such as cotton swabs or hairpins into the ear canal, as this can push earwax deeper and potentially exacerbate tinnitus or cause injury.

5. Stress About Tinnitus: While tinnitus can be bothersome, worrying excessively about it can heighten stress levels and make the symptoms feel more intense. Instead, focus on positive coping strategies and seek support from loved ones or support groups.

6. Neglect Regular Check-ups: Keep up with routine medical check-ups, including hearing evaluations, to monitor any changes in your condition and ensure appropriate management.

You should contact your primary health care provider if you also have the following symptoms alongside your tinnitus:

  • Ear pain and/or discharge as this may be indicative of an ear infection
  • Dizziness and/or balance issues as it may be Meniere’s disease or another neurological disorder
  • Jaw pain, headaches and/or facial pain as it might mean you have Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
  • If the noises you hear sound like a heartbeat as it may be a sign you have high blood pressure
  • Headaches, migraine, neck pain and/or changes to your tinnitus associated with movements could be a sign of a cervical spine condition.

Remember, managing tinnitus is often about finding what works best for you. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, incorporating these do’s and don’ts into your daily routine can help minimize the impact of tinnitus on your life. For more information on this or any other health topic, contact the pharmacists at Gordon Pharmasave, Your Health and Wellness Destination.