What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a condition where noises are heard when there is no external source, usually in the ears or in the head. Many will have experienced some buzzing or ringing in the ears at times, especially after exposure to loud noise. 1 in 8 of us in the UK experience the condition, with the figure set to increase by more than half a million people over the next 10 years.

What noises do people hear?

The way people perceive tinnitus varies enormously - from just one sound to a mixture of whistling, ringing, buzzing and rushing sounds. The condition is common among deaf and hard of hearing people but it also happens to a small number of hearing people.

What are the noises?

The noises that are heard are not fully understood but are generally considered background noise in the hearing system. For people with tinnitus, somewhere along the line from the cochlea to the auditory cortex, electrical signals are being generated more regularly, producing the sensation of sound.

The hearing pathway has a complex filtering system that allows you to ‘tune in’ to sounds that are important to you – like an early warning system – and ‘tune out’ sounds that are not important. This system is always working and stops you from being bombarded with sounds.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease and there can be many different causes. It can be linked to exposure to loud noise, hearing loss, ear or head injuries, some diseases of the ear and some ear infections, or it can be a side effect of some medication. It may be a combination of all or some of these or a person may never have any of these conditions.