The University of Auckland Clinics

Understanding tinnitus

If you hear disturbing sounds inside your ears or head, which aren’t coming from your surroundings, you may have tinnitus.

With tinnitus, the sound sensations don’t sound the same for everyone. They can range from ringing, whistling and humming to hissing-type noises. Some people with tinnitus hear more than one sound at a time.

To some people the perception of sound seems to be in their ears. Others perceive it to be inside the head.
Ongoing tinnitus is often a sign of some degree of damage to hearing.

Who gets tinnitus?

Most people will experience tinnitus – albeit temporarily. Attending loud rock concert can bring on a spell of tinnitus, for example.

But nearly one in five people have nuisance-level tinnitus. About one in 100 people have more annoying tinnitus. And one in 200 people have such severe, chronic tinnitus that they can suffer from lack of sleep, poor concentration and depression.

What causes tinnitus?

Many things can cause tinnitus, including exposure to loud noise and some drugs. People with ongoing tinnitus often have damage to the tiny “hair” cells on the inner ear’s cochlea organ.

Typically, in people with tinnitus not all the sensory functions on these “hair” cells work properly. And the brain, in turn, perceives the malfunction as sound.

All sorts of things can aggravate tinnitus including: stress; loud sounds; aspirin; caffeine; nicotine; and alcohol.
Stress almost always makes it worse. That’s because stress increases the volume-control setting in the brain.
People with tinnitus may not have any perceptible hearing loss.

If I think I have tinnitus what should I do?

Have a hearing test for starters. The University of Auckland Hearing and Tinnitus Clinic is a world-leader in tinnitus assessment and treatment management.

Treatments for tinnitus