What is tinnitus?

A simple definition is an

An auditory sensation without an external stimulus.

In other words a noise that only the person complaining of it can hear produced somewhere in the body – usually the hearing pathway.

Sometimes the cause of the tinnitus can be detected and treated but most of the time the exact cause is unknown and there are no treatments to stop the tinnitus but there is often a lot that can be done to help you live with the tinnitus and deal with any distress the tinnitus causes.

How common is tinnitus?

Very common. It is estimated that 10% of the population have tinnitus and about 1% have ‘troublesome tinnitus’. Troublesome tinnitus is tinnitus that is interfering with your daily life.

Interestingly if people are placed into a completely silent room (an anechoic chamber) then about 92% of people will hear a noise – so most of us have a very quiet tinnitus which we don’t normally hear.

Is tinnitus a disease?


Tinnitus is a symptom.

It maybe the warning sign of a serious underlying problem however the majority of the time there is no serous underlying problem.

How do you classify tinnitus?

Tinnitus presents in a number of different ways.

It will be:

Unilateral(one ear) or

Bilateral(both ears) or

In the head(not sure where its coming from)

It will be:

Continuous or


 It will be:

Non-pulsatile(common) or

Pulsatile which is like the sound of your heartbeat (uncommon)

It will be:

Subjective – only the person who has it can hear it(very common), or

Objective  – other people can hear it (very uncommon)

Determining the type and nature of the tinnitus helps doctors and audiologists decide on how it should be managed and whether or not it needs investigating.


When should I seek advice?

You should  discuss any type of tinnitus with your GP or an Audiologist.

The decision whether to investigate further and refer to an ENT surgeon will depend on:

  • the type of tinnitus as listed above
  • other factors such as age, occupation, associated symptoms( hearing loss, dizziness, pain), past medical history and medication.

For example:

non-pulsatile, non-troublesome , continuous or intermittent, bilateral or in the head tinnitus in the elderly will, in most cases, just need reassurance and an assessment of hearing.

If this sort of tinnitus is troublesome then an Audiologist may be able to help with coping strategies and possibly hearing aids.

The following types of tinnitus should be referred to an ENT surgeon for assessment.

  • Unilateral(one sided), non-pulsatile, tinnitus of greater than 3 months duration.
  • Pulsatile tinnitus
  • Objective tinnitus.

More information coming soon

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