Ringing in the ears? What is tinnitus?

Are you suddenly hearing noises in your head? Are your ears ringing or buzzing? If they are you may be suffering from tinnitus. Read on to understand what tinnitus is, what can be done to relieve your symptoms and where you can seek further assistance.

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What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is commonly described as a ringing in the ears or as a hissing, buzzing, chirping, whistling or humming noise.

Most of us have experienced tinnitus at some time during our lives but for others it can become persistent and troublesome.


Tinnitus definition and symptoms

Tinnitus is defined as ‘the perception of sound without an external source’. Symptoms are commonly described as being in one or both ears, or inside the head.

Tinnitus can manifest itself as one sound or as multiple sound pitches with differing presence.

Approximately 10% of the population experience tinnitus frequently with 1% of the UK population experiencing persistent and troublesome tinnitus.
— British Tinnitus Association

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus is not a disease or illness, but is thought to be caused within a person’s own auditory pathway.

The exact cause of tinnitus is still not completely understood.

Tinnitus can occur at any age, set off by a single event or develop gradually over time.

Some people can pinpoint when their tinnitus started and associate it to a ‘trigger event’ but for many people the cause of their tinnitus is unclear.

Possible causes of tinnitus are: -

  • Loud noise exposure
  • Hearing impairment
  • Ear infections
  • Stress

Tinnitus is not necessarily related to ear disease or hearing problems and research has established that tinnitus is generated in the brain and not in the ear.

It is thought that tinnitus might be linked to increased random activity by the nerve cells in the brain.

This extra activity known as ‘hyperactivity’ is thought to create a noise that we perceive as tinnitus and could be triggered for example by a reduction in our hearing range.

It is not fully understood how it happens but continued research hopes to give us a clearer understanding.