About tinnitus

Tinnitus is the perception of noises without an external source.

They can he heard in either or both ears or in the head.

Tinnitus can sound like:

  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Whistling
  • Other noises

The sensation can be constant or intermittent, and it can vary in volume.

Some people experience musical tinnitus, which often sounds like a familiar tune or song.

Others experience pulsatile tinnitus, which beats in time with their heartbeat.

Tinnitus is very common - it is estimated that 30% of people will experience tinnitus at some point during their life.

However, it is thought that tinnitus is persistent in 13% of people.

What causes tinnitus

The exact cause of tinnitus is currently unknown.

We know that tinnitus is often present following change, for example, change to hearing, as well as physical and mental changes, such as illness.

You can have satisfactory hearing levels and still experience tinnitus.

What you can do about it

There are quite a few strategies to help manage your tinnitus.

It can help to seek the right support.

We run a tinnitus and hyperacusis clinic at the Great Western Hospital if the tinnitus is having an impact on your day-to-day life.

This can be accessed through your audiologist, ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) department, or your GP.

If you have a hearing loss, hearing aids may help reduce the perception of your tinnitus.

This can be discussed with your audiologist.

There are also self-help strategies which can help reduce the perception of the tinnitus, or help it to become less bothersome.

Try not to stop doing the things you enjoy because of the tinnitus.

Tinnitus is often linked to increased stress levels.

Relaxation techniques such as relaxed breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help to reduce stress levels, and therefore how you respond to the tinnitus.

Talking therapies can help to manage how you respond to the tinnitus, and can help you to learn how you think and act towards the tinnitus and how much attention you give it.

Talking therapies can help reduce the distress caused by tinnitus.

Sound therapy (or sound enrichment) is using low-level sounds to regulate a person's tinnitus, and aims to reduce the perception of it.

This can be done in a number of ways, such as using:

  • Apps
  • A bedside sound generator
  • Hearing aids or wearable sound generators

It can also help to use relaxation techniques to prepare the body for sleep.

Once your body and mind are relaxed, sleep will come a bit easier.

Tinnitus and sleep

Some people with tinnitus find that they have more difficulty getting to sleep.

This can be due to the quiet environment making the tinnitus more noticeable.

It is normal to wake up during the night.

These natural wakings are usually forgotten by the morning.

However, if you are worrying about your tinnitus, they can last longer and are more likely to be remembered.

There are strategies and equipment available to help with tinnitus and sleep disturbance.

Having pleasant, relaxing sounds to listen to can help at night if you are having difficulty getting to sleep.

Bedside sound generators are portable machines that sit near the bed and provide a choice of soothing and relaxing sounds.

There are also a number of mobile phone apps which can be used.

The sounds can be played all night to distract from the tinnitus if you wake during the night.

For more information, please see also Sleep Hygiene.


Sometimes people report sensitivity to everyday sounds and find them intrusive or uncomfortable - this is known as hyperacusis.

Hyperacusis often (but not always) coincides with tinnitus.

The cause of hyperacusis is unknown, but it often occurs following a difficult life event.

Hyperacusis is often used as an umbrella term to describe altered sound tolerance.

This describes the experience of some people who find even moderate environmental sounds loud, intrusive and occasionally painful.

Sometimes people describe an intense dislike or even aversion to a particular sound - this is known as misophonia.

Common trigger sounds reported are chewing, sniffing and breathing.

The sounds are almost always generated by humans and are usually involuntary.

The management of hyperacusis usually involves the treatment of any medical conditions associated with the condition, counselling, and often the use of sound therapy.

Further information

If you would like any more advice on tinnitus, please ask your audiologist.

Support can also be found on the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) website (www.tinnitus.org.uk).

Please see also the BTA website: Helpline (www.tinnitus.org.uk/helpline).

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