What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is an awareness of sound in the ears or head which is not from an external source.
There are many different types of tinnitus sounds. Common descriptions are that it is a hiss, whistle, whirr, ring or buzz. Occasionally, it can be segments of music. The pitch can be high or low and the level can vary over time.
In its mildest form, tinnitus is extremely common and many people experience occasional sounds in their ears, for example after being in a noisy place such as a concert or loud pub. An estimated 10% of the UK adult population experience tinnitus frequency. Around 5% find it affects their quality of life.
There are two main types: subjective and objective tinnitus.
Subjective – This can be heard by the patient only. It is by far the most common type of tinnitus.
Objective – This can be heard by somebody examining the patient and is uncommon. It can be caused by a variety of physical effects such as spasm of the tiny muscles in the inner ear, abnormalities in the blood vessels around the ear, increased blood flow to the ear or anatomical abnormalities of the blood vessels.
At Action on Hearing Loss we also fund biomedical research into how tinnitus is generated and into possible new treatments. There are already drug treatments for some types of tinnitus being tested in clinical trials. However as tinnitus is so complex in its origin and system involvement, it is unlikely that we will find a single drug cure. Researchers are also looking at breaking the neural network by stimulating the vagus nerve which is involved in the transmission of efferent information in our body. With all this in mind, please, if you are dealing with a tinnitus sufferer don’t say ‘nothing can be done’ because that’s just not true. All that does is make the journey back for the tinnitus sufferer more difficult and longer; instead, reassure them that help and advice is out there, and that in time they can learn to live with their condition.learn more