Get insights into unilateral tinnitus, including causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Discover what sudden ringing in one ear means for your hearing health.
Dr Edmund Farrar

Dr Edmund Farrar

Medically Reviewed by
Co-Founder & CEO of Oto

Living with unilateral tinnitus: How to cope with the constant noise


Ever been startled by a sudden, uninvited ringing in your right ear or perhaps your left? You might have experienced unilateral tinnitus – a perplexing condition that targets one ear while leaving the other untouched. 

While tinnitus can be a common occurrence, unilateral tinnitus can be more concerning as it may indicate an underlying medical condition. Hence, this comprehensive guide aims to help you understand what triggers that incessant ringing in one ear and how you can manage it adeptly. So, let's dive in and unravel the mystery behind this phenomenon.

What is unilateral tinnitus?

As highlighted earlier, unilateral tinnitus manifests as a ringing sensation confined to a single ear. It is different from the bilateral type, where you perceive auditory disturbances in both ears. Moreover, it can vary in intensity and pitch, occurring either as a steady noise or coming and going at intervals. 

The types of sounds that can be heard include the following:

  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Humming
  • Hissing
  • Roaring
  • Clicking

What causes tinnitus in one ear?

Unilateral tinnitus can have various underlying causes. Let's delve into the key factors:

Exposure to loud noises

One of the most prevalent triggers is exposure to high-decibel sounds, from blaring music at concerts to heavy machinery. Such intense noise levels can damage the delicate, hair-like structures in your inner ear, disturbing your auditory processing and leading to tinnitus in one ear only.

Ear infections and wax buildup

Bacterial or viral ear infections can inflame the auditory structures, often resulting in temporary tinnitus. Similarly, an accumulation of earwax can obstruct the ear canal, causing sounds to reverberate and thereby leading to unilateral tinnitus symptoms.

Medications and substances

Certain pharmaceuticals, like aspirin, some antibiotics, and diuretics, have ototoxic properties that can induce tinnitus. In addition, lifestyle choices like heavy smoking and excessive drinking can worsen ear-related concerns, elevating the likelihood of experiencing sudden ringing in one ear.

Physical trauma

Injuries to the head or neck, or even Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorders affecting the jaw, can disrupt the neural pathways responsible for sound perception, giving rise to the auditory condition.

Medical conditions

Several medical conditions, including Meniere's disease, which results in intense vertigo, and acoustic neuroma, a non-cancerous tumour affecting the nerves responsible for hearing, may contribute to this disconcerting sensation. Otosclerosis, which impacts the bones in the middle ear, can also be a culprit.

Stress and lifestyle

High stress levels can heighten your sensitivity to tinnitus. In fact, extended periods of anxiety or tension can even transform occasional episodes into relentless, ever-present distress in the affected ear.

What are the symptoms of unilateral tinnitus?

Unilateral tinnitus is far from a one-size-fits-all experience, which makes identifying its specific symptoms crucial for timely and effective treatment. Apart from the various auditory perceptions mentioned earlier, here is a broad spectrum of signs you might encounter:

Variations in intensity

The intensity of tinnitus can differ among individuals. Some experience a low hum, almost akin to white noise, while others report a near-deafening ringing in only one ear. Pay attention to fluctuations in the volume of the sound, as these could offer clues to the underlying cause.

Accompanying symptoms

While the auditory aspects are most noticeable, unilateral tinnitus often comes with additional symptoms:

  • Vertigo: A spinning sensation, sometimes so severe it affects balance
  • Hearing Loss: This can be temporary or permanent, particularly in the affected ear
  • Ear Pressure: A sensation of fullness or pressure within the ear

Temporal patterns

You may notice that your unilateral tinnitus is not constant but rather comes and goes. Being attentive to these temporal patterns – whether it's intermittent or a sudden onset – can aid in diagnosis.

Emotional and psychological impact

The persistent noise can take a toll on your mental well-being, leading to stress, anxiety, or even depression. Recognising these psychological aspects is key to a holistic approach to treatment.

How unilateral tinnitus is diagnosed

Getting an accurate diagnosis of unilateral tinnitus involves several crucial steps. It's imperative to consult a healthcare professional if you suspect you have unilateral tinnitus, as self-diagnosis and treatment can be risky and ineffective.

  1. Medical history

Before deciding on a treatment course, a healthcare provider will aim to identify any underlying medical conditions. To this end, they will ask about your medical history. This covers your lifestyle, any medications you're taking, and past ear or hearing issues. The goal is to find any factors that could be causing your symptoms.

  1. Physical examination

The medical expert will then conduct a detailed physical evaluation, focusing specifically on the ear anatomy. This may involve examining your eardrum for signs of infection, as well as investigating any other abnormalities within the ear canal.

  1. Auditory assessment

To gauge the extent of your impairment, a hearing test is often prescribed. This helps in identifying the type and frequency of the sounds you're perceiving, offering valuable clues about potential root causes.

  1. Advanced imaging studies

In certain cases, imaging tests such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computed Tomography (CT) scans are recommended. These advanced diagnostics offer a detailed view of your ear's internal structures, often revealing if conditions like acoustic neuroma (non-cancerous tumours) or other growths are at play.

  1. Blood tests

Laboratory tests can offer valuable information about your overall health. Therefore, a blood analysis may be performed to rule out conditions like anaemia or thyroid imbalances, which can occasionally manifest as tinnitus.

Treatments for one-ear tinnitus

When you're grappling with unilateral tinnitus, effective treatment can seem elusive. Yet, options do exist, each tailored to address the main cause or alleviate symptoms. Here's what you need to know:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT offers a transformative approach to managing unilateral tinnitus. Instead of trying to eliminate the ringing or buzzing, this evidence-based therapy teaches you how to change and reduce your perception of the noise. It equips you with targeted coping mechanisms guided by a healthcare provider, allowing the disruptive sound to take a backseat in your daily life.

The power of CBT lies in its ability to change your brain’s automatic emotional reaction to the sound. Os that in time, you stop noticing it. By identifying and challenging negative thought patterns, you gain a sense of control, leading to an improved quality of life. This stops you from noticing the sound so it no longer impacts your life, turning CBT into a crucial tool for long-term management.

CBT is also the backbone of Oto's innovative approach, blending medical expertise with user-friendly technology to help you tune out to the noise and reduce its impact on your life.

Sound therapy

If no specific cause is identified, sound therapy is often recommended. This involves using external noises to disguise the sounds you're hearing, making tinnitus less noticeable. To this end, devices like white noise machines or hearing aids with tinnitus masking features can be effective at providing short-term relief.

Relaxation techniques

Given the link between stress and tinnitus, relaxation methods such as deep breathing, yoga, and meditation can offer respite to an extent. Some find that these techniques make the auditory distress less intense or bothersome.

Medication options

While no medicines are specifically approved for treating tinnitus, certain drugs, like anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications, may be prescribed, but only if there is a coexisting condition such as depression. It's crucial to note that these medications are not a direct treatment for tinnitus but may help alleviate symptoms if depression or anxiety is also present.

Remember, medical treatments aren’t one-size-fits-all. Your healthcare provider will work with you to tailor a plan that addresses your specific requirements and lifestyle needs. This may involve a combination of the above options.

Lifestyle changes for unilateral tinnitus

Lifestyle adjustments can offer surprising relief for those suffering from tinnitus. Let's break down the most effective changes you can implement:

Noise control

Avoiding loud noises isn't just preventive; it's part of ongoing care. If your occupation or hobbies put you at risk, invest in high-quality ear protection like noise-cancelling earphones or custom-fitted earplugs.

Smoking and alcohol

You may not realise it, but tobacco and alcohol can exacerbate your condition. Cutting back or quitting can lead to noticeable improvements, reducing the perceived volume and frequency of tinnitus sounds.

Dietary choices

While research is still limited, some individuals find that caffeine and high-sodium diets aggravate their symptoms. Experiment with dietary changes and keep a food diary to identify any potential triggers.

Physical exercise

Regular physical activity can improve blood circulation, which is beneficial for ear health. However, overly strenuous exercise may worsen tinnitus for some, so it's important to find a balanced regimen.

Sleep hygiene

Poor sleep can exacerbate the intrusiveness of tinnitus. Prioritise sleep by maintaining a consistent schedule and creating a calm bedtime environment.

Seek support

Whether it's friends and family or support groups, having a strong network to rely on can greatly enhance your coping skills. Additionally, professional counselling can provide targeted strategies to manage the psychological aspects of tinnitus.

Discover how to tune out tinnitus with our free webinar

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Transform your relationship with tinnitus: Discover Oto today

Are you tired of the constant buzzing or ringing in your ears that is interfering with your daily life? Oto is here to help you reclaim your peace and focus. This innovative program brings together a wealth of expertise from ENT specialists, audiologists, and leading researchers in the field, who all have a deep, personal understanding of tinnitus.

With Oto, you gain instant access to guided audio programs that feel as if you're conversing directly with a therapist. You can access them through our digital platform, which is easily available via a user-friendly mobile app.

Our offerings range from sleep-enhancing content to focus-boosting soundscapes, constituting an arsenal of expertly curated content that targets various aspects of life disrupted by tinnitus. Our app doesn't just address the symptoms; it aims to help you habituate to the sound, reducing your awareness and easing its impact.

For those who desire a more personalised experience, we also offer a 1-1 program that fuses video coaching sessions, including CBT, with our digital content. This holistic approach, combined with regular webinars and Q&A sessions with top tinnitus experts, gives you everything you need to stop noticing the sound and start enjoying your life again.

So, why settle for distraction and disruption when a more harmonious life is just a download away? 

Try Oto now and become part of a community that understands your struggle and supports your journey towards tuning out tinnitus. Download Oto on your iOS or Android device and start your path to a life where tinnitus takes a back seat.


Managing unilateral tinnitus is a journey that involves various approaches, from lifestyle adjustments to medical interventions. Understanding the symptoms, undergoing the appropriate diagnostic tests, and working closely with healthcare providers can make this journey more manageable. CBT has been shown to be the most effective way to tune out tinnitus, making it a crucial part of the treatment landscape.

If you're looking for a modern, comprehensive solution tailored to your unique experiences with tinnitus, don't miss out on Oto. With its user-friendly interface and evidence-based techniques, Oto is the trusted companion you need to push tinnitus into the background of your life. 

Take the first step towards reclaiming your peace: Download Oto now.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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Discover how to tune out tinnitus with our free webinar

Register for our 20 minute webinar and learn why you don't just have to live with tinnitus.
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Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.