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 sorts of noises that people hear include:
- Machine-type noises.
- A pulse or beat which is 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, or 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're 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.
For most people with tinnitus, nobody else can hear the noise. In one very uncommon type of tinnitus (objective tinnitus), the noise can be heard by another person listening very carefully. This is not the usual type of tinnitus and it is rare. It is usually due to a problem with blood or blood vessels, making them pulsate differently to usual.
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 is the outlook?
Many people with tinnitus improve, with or without any treatment. Between 2 and 5 out of every 10 people with tinnitus improve within five years. Even if it does not go completely, it can become less severe or less frequent. How troublesome tinnitus is tends to go up and down.
For some people, tinnitus is just a little annoying. On the other end of the scale, for others it can really reduce their enjoyment of life. It may:
- Cause problems sleeping (insomnia).
- Cause anxiety.
- Lead to depression.
- Result in reduced social interaction.
- Occasionally, even lead to suicide.
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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