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Tinnitus affects approximately 10% of the UK population in its mild form and can be traced back to Egyptian times.


Many people experience the odd noise in their ears, but when the sound is continuous, it is called tinnitus. Tinnitus is a term for noises heard in one ear, both ears or in the head, where there is no external noise causing the sound. The description of the noise varies from person to person but is most commonly described as ringing in the ears. Many people think that tinnitus is a disease or an illness, but it is in fact a symptom that may be caused by either a mental or physical change, which is often not related to hearing.

Who is affected by tinnitus?

Tinnitus is extremely common in its mild form with approximately 10% of the UK adult population experiencing tinnitus symptoms frequently and about 5% with persistent and troublesome tinnitus symptoms.

It has been found to be equally prevalent in men and women and although it occasionally occurs in children, it is most commonly found to affect those of between 40 and 70 years of age.

What are the symptoms of tinnitus?

Tinnitus is mainly described as a ringing in the ears. Other terms used to describe tinnitus include whistling, hissing, buzzing, wooshing, humming or singing in the ears.

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Does tinnitus cause the same problems in everyone?

Studies have shown that if left in complete silence in a sound reduction chamber, tinnitus will become apparent in the majority of people. In quiet environments it has been reported that 90-95% of people have experienced an odd occurrence of tinnitus. Some of us will have experienced this:

  • In a very quiet room
  • When congested with the cold

Experiencing an occasional bout of tinnitus is not unusual. Tinnitus is only a problem when the noise perceived becomes louder than the normal environment around you and when you are continuously aware of the noise.

Tinnitus affects everyone differently and where one person with tinnitus may be able to adapt to ignore it, another may become irritable, angry and upset by the noises they continuously hear. Although tinnitus can be an annoying symptom to deal with, there are vast arrays of treatments and therapies available to help minimise tinnitus symptoms.

What are the causes of tinnitus?

In some cases, tinnitus may be a symptom of another condition which can be easily treated, for example in the case of a person suffering from an ear infection or in the case of a workman using a noisy drill without ear protection. In others, tinnitus may appear for no apparent reason. The precise mechanism of tinnitus is not fully understood but it is believed to be caused due to disturbances in the way that nerves work between the ear and the brain.

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History of tinnitus

Hearing noises in the ears is a medical symptom that has been known for centuries, with a variety of treatments used to try to cure it. The first account of medical treatment for tinnitus symptoms dates back to the Egyptian times where a reed stalk was used to infuse oil, frankincense, tree sap, herbs and soil for the bewitched and humming ear. A few other interesting treatments mentioned in early medical history include:

  • The Mesopotamians who used to chant words to get rid of the ‘whispering or singing’ in the ear.
  • The Greco-Romans tried to relate tinnitus to a cause, for example if it was due to a cold they may clean out the ear.
  • The middle ages favoured pouring of things into the ear for treating tinnitus
  • In the Renaissance period surgery was introduced as a treatment for tinnitus.
  • Over several centuries, a number of treatments developed mainly favouring placing substances into the ear.
  • During the 20th century there was a lot of development on tinnitus treatment, especially through masking of tinnitus by sound generators.

Currently, tinnitus treatments concentrate mainly on distracting the mind from the noise caused by tinnitus through use of maskers, counseling and ensuring the tinnitus sufferer is educated and has an understanding of what treatments are available to help them to alleviate and cope with tinnitus symptoms.

What tinnitus treatments are available?

Unlike back in the renaissance period, surgical procedures are not routinely used to treat tinnitus and unless there is an underlying reason for tinnitus, no conventional medicines are available to specifically treat it. There are however a number of treatments that can be tried to help manage tinnitus including:

  • A variety of relaxation techniques
  • Counselling groups and tinnitus helplines
  • Herbal remedies and other complementary treatments
  • A change in diet

Follow the link for more information on tinnitus treatments.

Tinnitus symptoms can be distressing

For some, tinnitus may be so slight that it does not really affect them, whilst for others tinnitus can impact on their everyday activities. Tinnitus has been linked to a number of problems including stress, fatigue, trouble sleeping and relaxing, concentration difficulties, depression as well as affecting work and social activities. It is important to try to eliminate the cause of tinnitus where possible and where there is no known cause to try to find a suitable tinnitus treatment to completely relieve or help alleviate tinnitus symptoms.

Follow the link for more information on tinnitus symptoms.

Further reading:
Tinnitus symptoms
Tinnitus treatment
Tinnitus causes
Tinnitus self-help
Ringing in the ears