Tinnitus is the term for hearing sounds in one ear, both ears or in your head that don’t have any external source. The sounds come from inside your body, rather than outside.
What causes tinnitus?
The exact cause of tinnitus isn’t fully understood yet and research is ongoing.
It’s usually a symptom of a problem within the hearing system and can be linked to many things, including age-related hearing loss and exposure to loud noise.
How common is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is common. It affects 10% of adults in the UK. That’s around 6 million people.
Who gets tinnitus?
Tinnitus affects people of all ages, including young children, but it’s more common in people aged over 60.
How does tinnitus affect people?
Tinnitus affects people in different ways. Most people with tinnitus aren’t troubled by it or may only find it mildly annoying – they may only notice it occasionally, or their tinnitus may come and go.
But for around 600,000 people in the UK, tinnitus has a serious impact on their quality of life. They find it hard to concentrate and sleep, which leads to stress, anxiety and, sometimes, depression.
How loud tinnitus is, or what it sounds like, doesn’t seem to make a difference to whether it troubles people or not.
Can tinnitus be cured?
There is no cure for tinnitus yet, and research continues. Of course, if there’s an underlying cause of tinnitus that can be easily treated, such as an ear-wax blockage or an ear infection, treating this may get rid of the tinnitus.
Most people find that their tinnitus slowly gets better over time. This is because the brain gradually learns to ‘filter out’ tinnitus and not pay attention to it. This process is called habituation, and it’s the main goal of tinnitus therapies.
What can help with tinnitus?
Always see your GP if you have tinnitus. They can check to see if it is related to anything that can be treated and, if not, refer you to a specialist for support.
The support offered to you will depend on the nature of your tinnitus and how it affects you. You may be offered therapies such as sound therapy and counselling if your tinnitus is troublesome. You may need to be referred to a specialist tinnitus centre for these therapies if they’re not available in your audiology department.
There are also self-help techniques that can help you to manage tinnitus, such as learning how to relax, and using calming sounds to help you sleep.
What’s the link between tinnitus and sensitivity to sound?
Some people who are sensitive to sound also have tinnitus, but having one problem doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop the other. The two can occur completely independently.
There are two main types of sensitivity to sound:
- Hyperacusis – when you find sound in general or certain sounds uncomfortable or painfully loud.
- Misophonia or sound annoyance – when you find some sounds extremely irritating, even though you may not be particularly sensitive to sounds in general. The term phonophobia is used if you fear loud sounds.
What tinnitus research is Action on Hearing Loss funding?
The research we fund is focused on improving our understanding of what happens in the body to cause tinnitus, so this knowledge can be used to develop and test treatments.