If you are experiencing ringing or other strange noises in your ears, you might have tinnitus. It’s a relatively common condition, and it’s often temporary. But sometimes it's a constant problem that can interfere with your hearing and concentration.
What is tinnitus?
People with tinnitus experience sounds that aren’t actually being made around them.
Tinnitus is sometimes known as ‘ringing in the ears’, but if you have the condition you might hear humming sounds, or hissing, whistling, clicking, roaring, whooshing or buzzing.
The noise can be faint or loud, and it can occur in one or both ears. Sometimes the noise may feel like a sensation inside your head.
Tinnitus can come and go, or you might experience it all the time.
There are 2 main types of tinnitus:
- subjective tinnitus, which only you can hear – this is the most common type
- objective tinnitus, which a doctor can hear when they examine your ears – this can be caused by a problem with your blood vessels, or with the bones or muscles in your ear
In rare cases, people hear noises that seem to come and go at the same time as their heart beat. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus.
About 1 in 3 people in Australia suffer from tinnitus at some point in their life. About 1 in 6 have constant tinnitus symptoms.
Causes of tinnitus
Tinnitus may occur when there is a problem with the auditory (or hearing) system, which is made up of your ears and parts of your brain.
It is more common in people who have some hearing loss or other ear problem, but it can also occur in people who have normal hearing.
Both adults and children can experience tinnitus. Older adults are more likely to experience tinnitus because of age-related hearing loss.
Sometimes it’s not clear why people get tinnitus, although causes include:
- hearing loss
- ear wax
- exposure to loud noises
- ear infections
- head injuries
- Ménière’s disease
- some medicines.
Stress, anxiety, caffeine and some medicines can make tinnitus worse for people who already have it.
Talk to your doctor if you suspect you have tinnitus. Your doctor might check your ears and look for an underlying cause. They might refer you to an audiologist or an ear nose and throat specialist.
Effects of tinnitus
Some people find their tinnitus is an irritation they can learn to live with. For others, it can be very distressing. It can affect their concentration and make it hard to sleep. It can also cause depression.
If you have tinnitus, see your doctor if it’s affecting your sleep or concentration; if it’s getting worse; or if you suspect you have pulsatile tinnitus.
Help and support
Last reviewed: December 2018