What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus comes from the Latin word “tinnire”, which literally means “to ring” Tinnitus is a sound that is only audible to the person hearing it, it seems to feel like it is occurring in their head or ears. The sounds described varies from person to person, it maybe described as a ringing sound, or perhaps a whistling, a hissing or even a roaring?
The levels of the sounds vary and some more serious conditions can be extremely intrusive on everyday life, including at night when trying to sleep. The sounds tend to be more noticeable in very quiet, which is why people often feel the sounds increase at night. Either way, tinnitus can be distressing and worrying.
An estimated seven million people in the UK have experienced tinnitus at one time or another. Three million have visited their GP about it, and there are many more who have tinnitus but do not know what it is or how to manage it. For at least half a million, the effect on their lives is severe. It can happen at any age.
Tinnitus is believed to a bi-product of a hearing loss and is often indicative of damage to the inner ear. It is thought to be a misfiring of the electrical signals in the inner ear.
What does tinnitus sound like?
People experience tinnitus in many different ways but it is normally described as a ringing sound. However, some people will hear other sounds such as buzzing, humming, whistling, tunes or songs. It is common for the sounds to change. When people are under stress they may feel that their tinnitus changes in pitch or tone and becomes more intrusive.
Sometimes tinnitus noise beats in time with your pulse – this is known as pulsatile tinnitus.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus occurs when the filters in your brain and ears that determine how you respond to sound ‘tune in’ to a tinnitus signal. There are lots of different reasons that this can happen. We know that tinnitus can be linked to:
exposure to loud noise
a side effect of medication
ear or head injuries
diseases of the ear
or a combination of any of the above.
For many people with tinnitus, the cause isn’t clear. They may never have experienced any of the things mentioned above.