Tinnitus is the name for hearing noises that are not caused by an outside source. It’s not usually a sign of any serious conditions and generally improves over time. There are treatments that can help.
It’s often described as “ringing in the ears”, although several sounds can be heard, including buzzing, humming, grinding, hissing or whistling. Some people may hear sounds similar to music or singing. You may hear these sounds in 1 or both ears, or in your head. They may come and go, or you might hear them all the time.
Tinnitus is very common and is reported in all age groups, even young children. About 30% of people will experience tinnitus at some point in their lives, but the number of people who live with persistent tinnitus is approximately 13% of UK adults — so more than 1 in 8. Of those people who have persistent tinnitus, around 1 in 10 will find it has a significant impact on their quality of life.
Tinnitus is more common in people who have hearing loss (usually caused by ageing, or exposure to loud noise) or other ear problems, but it can also be found in people with normal hearing.
Although there is currently no cure for tinnitus, there are several strategies that can be very helpful in learning to manage the condition. These include deep breathing and yoga. You may also find it helpful if you try to find ways to improve your sleep, such as sticking to a bedtime routine or cutting down on caffeine.
It’s not always clear what causes tinnitus, but it’s often linked with:
- some form of hearing loss
- Ménière’s disease
- conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders or multiple sclerosis
- anxiety or depression
- taking certain medication – tinnitus can be a side effect of some chemotherapy medicines, antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and aspirin
Ask for an urgent GP appointment if you have tinnitus:
- after a head injury
- with sudden hearing loss, weakness in the muscles of your face, or a spinning sensation (vertigo)
- that beats in time with your pulse
You can find out more about Tinnitus on the NHS website.
Action on Hearing Loss has a free helpline on 0808 808 0123.