What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the ears or head not
caused by an external sound source. It may be heard in one or
both ears or appear to be generally in the head region but can be
variable and difficult to decide exactly where it seems to be.
Almost always, it is a totally subjective noise which only the
person who has it can hear. On rare occasions, it can be heard by
others as well; this is called objective tinnitus but is not
associated with the effects of noise exposure.
It's not an illness or a disease in itself, but it is often a
symptom of a problem with the ear or the hearing pathways to the
brain. Usually, it occurs when the inner ear is damaged or impaired
in some way. Some of the causes of are:
- Exposure to loud noises
- Ear infections
- Head injury
- Waxy build-up in the ear
These are just a few of the most common causes, but it can also
be a side-effect of medication or a result of other health
problems, such as high blood pressure. It is also commonly
associated with age-related hearing loss, although it can affect
anyone at any age.
What does it sound like?
It is often described as a "ringing in the ears," but what
people with this condition hear is extremely variable. Some people
hear hissing, whooshing, roaring, whistling or clicking. It can be
intermittent or constant, single or multiple tones or more
noise-like. Probably the most common description for noise-induced
tinnitus is a high pitched tone or noise.
The perceived volume or loudness is very individual and can
range from very quiet to disturbingly loud. Although some people
say that it comes and goes or as a tone that changes pitch through
the day, for most it is a steady, unchanging noise every waking
Does tinnitus cause hearing loss?
Tinnitus is not a disease itself or a cause of hearing loss. It
is a symptom that something is wrong somewhere in the auditory
system, including the cochlea of inner ear, the auditory nerve and
the areas of the brain that process sound. In about 90% of cases,
it accompanies hearing loss and an individual can have both hearing
loss and tinnitus from noise damage. However the two do not always
occur together. It is possible to have no measurable hearing loss
but suffer from the condition.
How many people have tinnitus?
About 90 percent of cases occur with an underlying hearing loss.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) now lists tinnitus as a
distinct disorder and says that noise exposure is a major cause of
permanent hearing loss around the world.
Recent research confirms that it is the second most common form
of hearing loss after age-related hearing loss.
The persistency of the condition is experienced by approximately
10% of the adult UK population. Prevalence increases with age but
experiences of it are very common in all age groups, especially
following exposure to loud noise. About half of those who live with
the condition find it moderately or severely distressing with about
0.5% of adults in the UK (242,000 people) has a severe effect on
their ability to lead a normal life.
About 8% of the population seek medical advice with
approximately 750,000 primary care consultations in England each
year. Some suffer debilitating symptoms such as anxiety, depression
or sleep disturbances but only 2.5 per cent have attended hospital
for this purpose.
Here at Amplifon, we've put together a visual guide (below)
explaining the effects, causes and some tips to aid
It can be confusing and even frightening when it occurs for the
first time, but it is rarely a symptom of a serious disorder. If it
lasts for longer than a week, or if it is affecting your
concentration, sleep or anxiety levels, book an appointment with
your GP or with an audiologist through Amplifon.
In some cases, the problem can be managed with relaxation
exercises. There are also specialist hearing solutions available
that provide soothing tones to distract from the noise of it.
For more information, visit The British Tinnitus Association who
can support and authoritative information, much of it written by
medical and audiology professionals or clinical researchers. Its
support network can also put you in touch with other people who
share similar experiences.
To learn more about he causes, symptoms and treatments, refer to our individual