Tinnitus is a condition in which a person hears a sound in their head or ears that is not coming from outside the body. Subjective tinnitus is when only the patient can hear that sound and is most commonly associated with hearing loss. Objective tinnitus is when others can hear the sound as well but this is relatively rare. It occurs when a sound is being created inside the body. This is usually in the ear, head or neck.
Tinnitus is very common affecting up to fifteen per cent of the population. Of people who report ear-related problems, up to eighty per cent of them will also report tinnitus. It is more common in the elderly though children experience it too. Tinnitus is often described as "ringing in the ears" but also as a whooshing, pulsing, buzzing or fluttering sound in the ears or head.
It is very common to have tinnitus after exposure to a loud noise such as after a noisy music concert. This can be annoying but will usually resolve in a few hours. Noise exposure can also be damaging in the long term. This can be a one off sound or noise exposure sustained over years. The level of noise dictates the degree of hearing loss. Ears vary in sensitivity and so a loud noise may cause tinnitus in some people but not in others. The effects of the exposure may not be noticeable for many years.
Tinnitus is not a disease in itself but can be a symptom of an underlying problem. It is most often associated with hearing loss. If the tinnitus noise comes in pulses, with dizziness, or is only one-sided then it should be fully investigated by the doctor as these might indicate a more serious disease. In many cases there is no known cause of the tinnitus. For this reason it can often be hard to treat and may need to be viewed as a long term condition with the affected person finding ways to live with it.
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