The term tinnitus comes from the Latin word for ringing. It's the awareness of noises in the head and/or ear that have no external source. Those living with the condition may have to endure a ringing, buzzing, hissing, whistling or other sounds. The experience of tinnitus is different for different people. The sensation can be in one or both ears or feel like it is in the head. The sounds can be constant, intermittent, vary in volume and can move around. These symptoms are usually caused by an underlying condition.
Tinnitus is very common and is reported in all age groups, even young children. About 30% of people will experience tinnitus at some point in their lives but the number of people who live with persistent tinnitus is approximately 13% (over 1 in 8). Tinnitus is more common in people who have hearing loss or other ear problems, but it can also be found in people with normal hearing.
Most people find that it doesn’t affect them in any way, whilst some find it moderately annoying, with others finding it very troublesome. Studies have shown that, over time, tinnitus in most cases disappears completely or the noises reduce to a manageable level as the brain loses interest and stops listening for the signal. The time that takes varies from person to person – but it does happen!
In many people with tinnitus, the cause is unknown; however, it usually results from a mental or physical change not necessarily related to the ear. One of the most common causes of tinnitus is damage to the hair cells within the inner ear. This tends to happen as people age or from prolonged exposure to excessively loud noise. In some cases, it may relate to:
Your GP will usually examine your ears to see if your tinnitus is caused by something that they can treat, such as a build-up of wax or an ear infection. They may check for any hearing loss and you may be referred to a specialist for further tests or treatment.
Although there is currently no cure for tinnitus, there are several strategies that can be very helpful in learning to manage the condition:
The theme of Tinnitus Week 2020 is tinnitus research - urgently needed to help find a cure for the condition.