Tinnitus is a noise such as a ringing or buzzing that you can hear, but the noise does not come from outside your ear.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is when you can hear sounds inside your head that are created by your hearing sytem, not your environment. It could be a ringing, humming, pulsing or hissing. It is more prominent in quiet areas or at nighttime. It usually has no particular cause but can be treated.
You can't turn it off or move away from it, so it can be spectacularly annoying.
How bothersome tinnitus is varies vastly between different people or in the same person over time. It may be there a lot of the time, occasionally, or fluctuate between the two. It can involve one ear or both.
Tinnitus is a symptom rather than a disease.
Why do I have it?
There are a number of reasons for tinnitus. The most common situation is that it often comes as an unwanted "added extra" when you develop age-related hearing loss. It may also occur as a consequence of exposure to loud noise, or from working in a noisy place for a long time. Sometimes it is a symptom of other medical conditions, such as Ménière's disease, ear infections or inner ear conditions. Occasionally it's caused by a build-up of wax in the ear (although usually this affects your hearing or you are aware of a blocked feeling in your ear rather than tinnitus). Sometimes there is no obvious reason.
Will I need any tests?
Your doctor will try to find out the cause. You will be asked some questions about the type of noise, how often it is there and how troublesome it is. The doctor will want to know if it involves one or both ears, and if you have other symptoms. They will also want to examine your ears and they may examine other parts of your face, such as your eyes, which may help to establish a cause. You will probably be referred for a hearing test.
Depending on the outcome of all of this, you may or may not need other tests. These might include blood tests or scans.
Did you find this information useful?
- Tinnitus; NICE CKS, April 2010 (UK access only)
- Tunkel DE, Bauer CA, Sun GH, et al; Clinical practice guideline: tinnitus. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014 Oct 151(2 Suppl):S1-S40. doi: 10.1177/0194599814545325.
- Phillips JS, McFerran D; Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) for tinnitus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Mar 17 3:CD007330.
- Hobson J, Chisholm E, El Refaie A; Sound therapy (masking) in the management of tinnitus in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Nov 14 11:CD006371. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006371.pub3.
- Martinez-Devesa P, Perera R, Theodoulou M, et al; Cognitive behavioural therapy for tinnitus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Sep 8 (9):CD005233. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005233.pub3.
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