Tinnitus is a physical condition of hearing sound when there is no sound present. It often sounds like ringing or buzzing in the ears, and seems to come from inside the body rather than from an external noise stimulus. As such, there’s no “off switch”, and it can make silence feel very noisy. Tinnitus can be very annoying, but it’s not the end of the world. It is a common condition and there are many different ways to manage it. Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at what exactly tinnitus is, what causes it, and how to treat it.
Tinnitus is a symptom generated by a person’s auditory pathways. It is not a disease or illness, but the exact cause is still not fully understood. In some cases, tinnitus may be related to other medical conditions. It can be mild to severe, and affect one ear, both ears or feel like it’s coming from the middle of your head. Although tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss, it does not cause – and is not caused by – hearing loss.
In the UK, around six million people (10% of the population) experience tinnitus all the time. For most people, it is a mild annoyance, but around 1% of the UK’s adult population experiences severe tinnitus that can affect their quality of life. Tinnitus can affect people of all ages, though it is most common in people over 65.
Tinnitus is often described as “ringing in the ears”, but each person will experience it a little differently. It can be classified into the following categories:
The sounds can be very quiet, very loud or change in volume. For some people, it can last just a few seconds, while others hear sounds intermittently or continuously. In some cases, the sounds can be heard in sync with your heartbeat, known as pulsatile tinnitus.
Regardless of how it sounds, tinnitus can be very frustrating for sufferers. It usually becomes more apparent in situations where background noise is low, such as at bedtime or when quietly working. When we are aware of a constant sound, our brain identifies it as an active thought process and prevents relaxed brain activity that allows us to sleep. This can have a knock-on effect on concentration, relationships and our daily life. For those who work with sound, such as musicians and audio engineers, it can have a serious impact on work and creativity.
Some people will find even quiet noises intrusive and disruptive, while others learn to tolerate and live with tinnitus more easily. It is normal for tinnitus to fluctuate depending on stress levels and tiredness, and usually this is nothing to worry about.
Tinnitus is different for everyone. Some people experience it briefly after exposure to loud noise, such as after attending a concert or nightclub. For others, it may come and go. In some cases, it can be permanent. For many long-term sufferers, the symptoms of tinnitus may eventually fade away or become less noticeable over time.
Tinnitus is rarely an indication of a more serious problem, but if you’re just noticing these sounds for the first time it is natural to be worried. If you’ve started hearing ringing or buzzing in your ears, it’s a good idea to see us at House of Hearing. Our audiologists can carry out a simple hearing test and check your ears to see if the problem is being caused by an easily treatable condition such as earwax or an infection. If tinnitus is diagnosed, we can offer you solutions to help you manage it.
Next time, check back for part two of our tinnitus series, on the types and causes of tinnitus.
At House of Hearing, we offer tailored tinnitus management, including tinnitus retraining therapy, hearing aids and masking technologies. We’re happy to talk through any questions or concerns you have. Give us a call on 0131 220 1220 or send us a message on our website.