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What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a medical term to describe the perception of noise either in one ear, both ears or in the head, when there is no corresponding external sound.

An Action on Hearing Loss volunteer talking to a group of young lads at a club about tinnitus and the risks of loud music.

Most people with tinnitus describe it as a ‘ringing’ sound. But the sounds heard can vary from person to person. You may hear it as: 

  • buzzing
  • whistling
  • humming
  • whooshing
  • hissing

Find out more about what tinnitus can sound like.

Tinnitus is a common condition that can:

  • happen at any age, but is more common in people aged over 65
  • develop gradually or suddenly
  • be continuous or come and go
  • affect people in different ways

An estimated 10% of adults in the UK have mild tinnitus. That’s six million people. Around 1% of adults (about 600,000 people) in the UK have tinnitus that affects their quality of life.

Find out more about how tinnitus can affect people.  

There are two types of tinnitus:

  • Subjective tinnitus – this is the most common type, where the sounds are only heard by the person who has tinnitus. It is usually linked to problems affecting the hearing pathway.
  • Objective tinnitus – in a few rare cases, the tinnitus sounds can be heard by other people, too, such as a doctor listening through a stethoscope placed near your ear. It is usually caused by a physical problem that produces sound, such as the narrowing of blood vessels in your ear.

Find out more about the different causes of tinnitus.

sound waves

What does tinnitus sound like?

Tinnitus is normally described as a ‘ringing’ sound, but people can experience the condition in different ways.
Find out more

Two women talking.  One is giving the other advice.

How does tinnitus affect people?

Around 600,000 people have tinnitus that has a severe impact on their day-to-day life.
Find out more

A man working with an angle grinder.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus is not a disease or an illness. It’s usually a symptom of a problem within your hearing pathway and there may be several underlying causes.
Find out more

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Myths and truths

There are many myths around tinnitus. We answer these with the facts and give advice to those suffering with tinnitus.
Find out more

Tinnitus Information Line - telephone 0808 808 6666 (freephone)

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