Tinnitus is the perception of noises or ringing in the ears.
Tinnitus can sound different to different people and is most commonly reported as a ringing in the ears. However, other types of perceived sounds can be buzzing, whistling, humming, hissing or grinding sounds.
Some people find they notice their tinnitus at night while trying to sleep or when in quiet places. Other people find when they are tired or stressed the sound of their tinnitus increases.
Although it's a common condition, tinnitus still isn't fully understood. Possible causes could be a number of things including:
Your audiology or medical professional will first rule out other conditions which may be causing your tinnitus, such as ear infections or a side effect of other medications. An audiology professional will also perform an audiogram to determine if you also have hearing loss.
They will also ask you some questions about your tinnitus such as:
Is the sound you're hearing in both ears? If so, is it equally loud in both ears?
Has it recently changed in nature?
Is the sound constantly there or does it come and go?
Is the volume constant or does it fluctuate?
Do you also notice problems with your hearing?
Does the sound make you feel anxious or stop you sleeping?
Does it drown out conversation or make it difficult for you to concentrate on what is said to you?
Treatment and prevention
There is no single cure for tinnitus, but there are treatments that can help.
The first step is to try to eliminate the cause of your tinnitus. If tinnitus is a side effect of a medical condition, like an ear infection, then treating that condition can get rid of the tinnitus.
If your tinnitus is not caused by a medical condition, there are options that can help you manage the symptoms. For example, many people find it helpful to use background noises, like music or television, to take prominence away from the sound of their tinnitus. Often people with hearing loss and tinnitus find being fitted with hearing aids also helps their tinnitus. Some hearing aids also have special tinnitus programs which produce sounds that help to mask it.
If it's affecting your everyday life and causing you stress, there are counselling and therapy services that can help you learn how to cope with it more effectively.