What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the perception of noise 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 tinnitus as a ringing, buzzing, hissing or whistling sound. It can be a constant sound or you may only notice it occasionally, to varying degrees of volume. The symptoms of tinnitus can be worrying, but you’re not alone – it’s estimated that around 10% of adults in the UK experience tinnitus.

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HearCare director Anum Saleemi explains more in this short video:

Types of tinnitus

There are two main types of tinnitus: subjective and objective. But some people also experience a third type: pulsatile tinnitus.

Subjective tinnitus
The most common of the three, these sounds can only be heard by the person experiencing tinnitus. This can be caused by issues in your ear as well as problems with how your hearing nerve communicates with the brain.

Objective tinnitus
Very rarely, people in close proximity to the sufferer can also hear their tinnitus sounds. This form is usually caused by something that produces sound, like a narrowing of blood vessels in the ear or muscle contractions.

Pulsatile tinnitus
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.

Listen to these representations of tinnitus sounds:

Supplied by the British Tinnitus Association.
Note: Please make sure your volume is set at a comfortable listening level.

Tinnitus causes

Tinnitus causes

There are a variety of possible causes, including a build-up of earwax, perforated eardrum, an infection, or a side effect to certain medications. Exposure to loud sounds, like those listed below, can also trigger the condition:

  • Rock concerts (120 dB)
  • Ambulance siren (120 dB)
  • Nightclubs (110dB)
  • Loud machinery (115-120 dB)
  • Personal music player/headphones (112 dB)
  • Hand drill (98 dB)
  • Heavy traffic (85 dB)
  • Lawn mower (85 dB)

Our Audiologists will be able determine the underlying cause of your tinnitus and advise you on possible treatment depending on the results of your examination.

Tinnitus treatment and relief

Tinnitus treatment and relief

Unfortunately, there’s no single treatment that’s right for everyone. Eliminating the cause could be the first step to tackling the problem, so it’s important to find out when and where it happens.

As tinnitus is usually a symptom of a medical condition, treating that condition, for example with antibiotics for an ear infection, or removing a build up of earwax should help to improve your tinnitus. But if it doesn’t go away after treatment, there are a number of options that may reduce, or if not help you to start living normally with tinnitus.

Sometimes, tinnitus can go away on its own – but unfortunately not all cases can be fully relieved. We’ll be able to help you cope with the effects of tinnitus.

Tinnitus and hearing loss

Tinnitus and hearing loss

Many people who suffer from tinnitus also have hearing difficulties. In this instance, hearing aids can help, as amplified sounds will also keep the brain ‘busy’ so the tinnitus becomes less prominent.

For people without hearing loss, background noise such as music or television, can provide ‘exterior sounds’ that work in a similar way.

To understand more about hearing loss, see our information on how the ear works

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 on a daily basis.