What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of noises in the ear that sound as if they’re internal, rather than coming from an outside source. It can sound different for each person, but people will often describe it as a ringing in the ear, buzzing, hissing or whistling sound. It can be a constant sound or you may only notice it occasionally, to varying degrees of volume.
“My tinnitus tends to flare up if I’ve been at a gig, DJing at a club, or wearing headphones for long periods of time which is frustrating as I love live music. It can affect me for days afterwards and I have a constant whistle in my ears which can be hard to live with.”
- Jo Whiley, broadcaster
Types of tinnitus
Hearing Care director Anum Saleemi explains tinnitus
This is the most common type of tinnitus. It refers to sounds heard inside the ear by the sufferer only. This can be caused by problems in your ear and the way your hearing nerve communicates with the brain.
Very rarely, people in close proximity to the sufferer can also hear their tinnitus sounds. This is usually caused by something that produces sound, like a narrowing of blood vessels in the ear or muscle contractions.
Occasionally, people will hear tinnitus noises that beat in time with their pulse. This is usually linked to disturbances in the blood flow around your head or neck.
To the person experiencing tinnitus it may sound like a buzzing, whistling or ringing in the ears.
Here are some examples of those sounds, supplied by the British Tinnitus Association
Please make sure your volume is set at a comfortable listening level.
If you are experiencing something similar, our Audiologists can help you to find the underlying cause of you tinnitus and give you advice about what to do next.
What causes tinnitus?
Although it’s a common condition, tinnitus still isn’t fully understood. Possible causes could be a number of things including a build up of earwax, perforated eardrum, an infection, or a side effect to certain medications.
As in Jo’s case, it’s thought that exposure to loud noise can trigger tinnitus. Something like a particularly loud gig or concert could be all it takes, even if it’s just a one-off. Here are some examples of loud noise that can cause tinnitus:
- Rock concerts (120 dB)
- Ambulance sirens (120 dB)
- Nightclubs (110dB)
- Loud machinery (115-120 dB)
- Personal music player/headphones (112 dB)
- Hand drills (98 dB)
- Heavy traffic (85 dB)
- Lawn mowers (85 dB)
Tinnitus treatment and relief
There is no single cure for tinnitus, but there are treatments that can help. The first step is to try and eliminate the cause of your tinnitus, so it’s important to find out why you are getting it. If tinnitus is a side effect of a medical condition, like an ear infection, then treating that condition can get rid of the tinnitus.
If your tinnitus is not caused by a medical condition, there are options that can help you cope with the effects of it. For example, many people find it helpful to use background noises, like music or television, to take the prominence away from the sound of their tinnitus.
Tinnitus and hearing loss
Many people who suffer from tinnitus also have hearing difficulties. In this case, hearing aids can help, as amplified sounds help to keep the brain ‘busy’ and take the focus away from the tinnitus.
If the symptoms persist or you are concerned about your tinnitus, you should contact your GP who may refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. They’ll be able to suggest ways of dealing with the problem. If a specific cause can’t be established, the focus will be on helping you manage the condition.