Most often, tinnitus is linked to hearing loss caused by normal ageing or exposure to loud noise, but it can be a symptom of other ear conditions too. It’s rarely a sign of a serious disorder, but see your GP if you think you have it.
What does tinnitus sound like?
There are many different tinnitus sounds. Most people describe it as ‘ringing in the ears’, but it can also sound like:
- white noise.
There may be a single sound or two or more. The sound may be low, medium or high-pitched. It may be there all the time, or come and go.
For a small number of people, tinnitus is a rhythmical noise that may beat in time with the heart. This is called ‘pulsatile tinnitus’.
Occasionally, tinnitus can sound like fragments of tunes or songs. This is known as ‘musical hallucinations’.
You can find out more about these rare types of tinnitus in our factsheets Musical hallucinations and Pulsatile tinnitus.
Who gets tinnitus?
People of all ages get tinnitus, even children. But it’s more common in older adults.
Many people have tinnitus for a short time – for example, after listening to loud music or when they have congestion because of a cold. But around 1 in 10 adults in the UK have tinnitus all the time or frequently. That’s around 6 million people.
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. But some people find that tinnitus has a big impact on their life, causing:
- sleep difficulties
- hearing difficulties
- general anxiety.
How loud tinnitus is, or what it sounds like, doesn’t seem to make a difference to whether it troubles people or not.
The good news is that 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. The process is called habituation and it is the main goal of tinnitus therapies.
Read about people’s experiences of living with tinnitus