Tinnitus is extremely common and the majority of people who experience it will be almost completely unaffected by it. Others find the disorder life-changing and of course there's everything else in-between.
Derived from the Latin verb tinnire (to ring), the word 'tinnitus' comes from the Latin word for 'ringing', and refers to hearing sounds that come from inside your body, rather than from an outside source. It is the perception of sound when there is no external noise present.
Many people describe tinnitus as ‘ringing in the ears’, but it can also involve other sounds. For example; buzzing, humming, hissing, whistling or clicking. This can be constant, pulsing or intermittent, and it can vary in volume. As well as being constant or intermittent, many patients experience more than one sound. It can be localised to one or both ears, or centrally within the head, and some patients describe an external point of origin. The onset of tinnitus can be abrupt, but it is usually gradual in most cases.
There are two main types of Tinnitus:
In some cases, more complex sounds such as voices or music can be heard. These are known as auditory hallucinations. If voices or music, or both, are heard and they convey no meaning then they are classified as a form of tinnitus. This is in contrast with the auditory hallucinations that can occur with psychotic illness.
Tinnitus can sometimes be a rhythmical pulsatile sound and often synchronous with the heartbeat, in which case a vascular origin is likely. If the sounds are more random, then a myoclonus of the middle-ear or palatal muscles is probable.
Tinnitus is a symptom generated within the auditory system, and is usually caused by an underlying condition.
In persistent and severe cases, tinnitus can be very distressing, and can cause problems such as difficulty sleeping, irritability, and even pain in some instances. It can cause people to feel depressed, isolated and generally unlike themselves. This can cause strain on relationships, making people feel even more isolated.
Read more about what can cause tinnitus