Tinnitus Explained

Tinnitus Explained

If you are experiencing ringing or other strange noises in your ears, you might have tinnitus. It’s a relatively common condition, and is often temporary. But sometimes it’s a constant problem that can interfere with hearing and concentration.

What is tinnitus?

People with tinnitus experience sounds that aren’t actually being made around them.

Tinnitus is sometimes known as ‘ringing in the ears’, but if you have the condition you might hear humming sounds, or hissing, whistling, clicking, roaring, whooshing or buzzing. 

The noise can be faint or loud, and it can occur in one or both ears. Sometimes the noise may feel like a sensation inside the head.

Tinnitus can come and go, or you might experience it all the time. Some people find their tinnitus is an irritation they can learn to live with. For others, it can be very distressing.

Two thirds of people in Australia suffer from tinnitus at some point in their life. About 10% have tinnitus that severely affects their quality of life.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus may occur when there is a problem with the auditory (hearing) system, which consists of the ears, the hearing nerves and parts of the brain.

It is more common in people who have some hearing loss or other ear problem, but it can also occur in people who have normal hearing. 

Often it’s not clear why people develop tinnitus, which can occur in both adults and children. Older adults are more likely to experience tinnitus because of age-related hearing loss.

How is tinnitus treated?

Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about your tinnitus. In most cases there is no cure, but the underlying cause may be treatable. There are some things you can do to manage tinnitus:

  • Work out what makes the tinnitus worse and avoid any triggers.
  • Avoid silence — create low level background noise with the TV or radio.
  • Relax and avoid stress, as this can make tinnitus worse.
  • Talk to your doctor about medications that may be making the tinnitus worse.
  • Limit caffeine in coffee, tea or soft drinks.
  • Protect your hearing if you are using noisy equipment (such as a lawn mower) or you are in a loud environment, such as a rock concert.

Many people habituate or get used to the sounds so their brain doesn’t notice the tinnitus any more.

Good-quality, properly fitted hearing aids can reduce or even eliminate tinnitus associated with hearing loss. Hearing aids reduce the strain of listening and distract you from the tinnitus by bringing in more sound from the environment around you.

Watch the video

The video below is an excellent animation of what tinnitus is: