Emergency Hearing care
Tinnitus is noise such as a ringing or buzzing that you can hear, but the noise does not come from outside your ear. Many people have mild tinnitus that is not too bad. However, about 1 in 100 people have tinnitus which severely affects their quality of life. In many cases, the cause is not known. In some cases the tinnitus is related to another problem. For example, it is common for people with age-related deafness also to develop tinnitus. There is no cure which will take the noise away. However, there are ways that can make tinnitus less intrusive and troublesome.
HearingNow is part of the tinnitus support group in South London, an initiative by the British Association of Tinnitus to bring in resources and support for tinnitus patients in local communities.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answers To Your Questions About Tinnitus
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is an abnormal noise (or noises) that you can hear. However, the noise does not come from outside your ear. The sort of noises that people hear include: ringing, buzzing, whistles, roaring, humming, machine-type noises, etc. Sometimes the noise pulsates at the same rate as your pulse. Tinnitus can be either constant or come and go. It can vary in loudness and character from time to time. You can hear the noise or noises in one ear, in both ears, or it may be difficult to pinpoint where the noise seems to come from.
The noise is often more prominent when you are in a quiet place. For example, when you are in bed and trying to get to sleep. It may also be more noticeable when you are tired. Some people with tinnitus are also more sensitive to normal everyday sounds. For example, some people with tinnitus find that a radio or TV is painfully loud when it is at a normal volume for most people.
How common is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is common and can occur at any age. Most people have an occasional episode of tinnitus after going to a loud concert or disco. For most people, this is temporary and soon goes. As many as 1 in 10 people have persistent tinnitus that is mild and not very troublesome. However, about 1 in 100 people have tinnitus which persists most of the time, and severely affects their quality of life.
What causes tinnitus?
In many people with tinnitus, the cause is not known. The ear is otherwise fine. What seems to happen is that signals are sent from the ear up the ear nerve to the hearing part of the brain. The brain interprets these signals as noise. It is not clear why these signals are sent from the ear. The noise may also originate somewhere else in the hearing nerve pathways in the brain.
Often tinnitus is caused by another condition. For example:
Tinnitus often develops at the same time as hearing loss in older age.
Ménière’s disease. In this condition, you develop attacks of vertigo (dizziness), hearing loss and tinnitus. It is due to a problem with the cochlea - a snail-shaped chamber filled with fluid, in the inner ear.
Exposure to very loud noise. Some people develop persistent tinnitus after being subjected to loud noise for a long time. For example, after years of working in a loud factory. Sometimes permanent tinnitus persists after a one-off loud noise experience. For example, following a rock concert.
As an uncommon side-effect of some medicines. For example, aspirin and quinine.
Following an ear or head injury.
Some other ear disorders such as otosclerosis.
Some uncommon diseases of blood vessels, brain or nerves can cause tinnitus. In these situations, you are likely to have other symptoms or signs such as nerve weakness, etc. However, rarely, tinnitus may be the first symptom to develop.
Tinnitus can sometimes be a feature of a lack of iron in the body (anaemia), thyroid disease or diabetes.
A tumour called an acoustic neuroma occasionally causes tinnitus; this is usually persistent and in one ear only. If you get the noise only in one ear, it is particularly important that you consult a doctor, so this can be ruled out.
An ear infection. The tinnitus tends to clear when the infection clears.
Psychological factors may have a role to play. For example, mild tinnitus that is not bothersome may become more bothersome if you become depressed, anxious or stressed.
Have a question about tinnitus? Contact us.