What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing a sound when there is no external source for that sound.

What does tinnitus sound like?

Tinnitus is unique to the person experiencing it. But ultimately it is the sensation of hearing a sound when there is no external source for that sound. Someone with tinnitus may hear ringing, buzzing, hissing, whistling or other noises. Tinnitus can be there all the time or come and go. The volume of someone’s tinnitus can vary from one episode to the next. 

Tinnitus comes in many types, but Tinnitus UK is here for everyone living with tinnitus.  

Below we look at what tinnitus can sound like – but your tinnitus is unique to you and could sound different. 

All about tinnitus – easy read


What is tinnitus? 

Tinnitus is when you hear sound in your head or ears, when there is nothing making the sound. 

You might hear ringing, buzzing, whooshing or humming. 

The sound might go on and on, or it might come and go. 

It might be in one ear, or both ears, or in the middle of your head. 

Some people hunt for what is making the sound, before they realise that the sound is inside them. 

Some people have musical tinnitus, where the sound seems like a tune or song. 


Who gets tinnitus? 

Many people get tinnitus, even young children. 

One in three people get tinnitus at some point in their lives. 

One in seven people has tinnitus that doesn’t go away. 

Some people do not mind having tinnitus. 

Some people find it annoys them. 

Some people find it really upsets them. 


What causes tinnitus? 

Tinnitus is not a disease or illness. 

Tinnitus is brain activity that has got out of normal balance. 

A change in the ear, such as an ear infection, a cold, or wax blocking the ear might start the tinnitus. 

Loud noise over a long time, such as power tools, live music concerts, or noisy machinery, can cause tinnitus. 

It can be started by a stressful live event. When the event is over, the tinnitus may stop. 


What should I do? 

You can talk to your doctor. 

Your doctor may ask you to see an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist or a special tinnitus clinic. 

A hearing therapist will talk to you about the things you can do and use to help. 

A psychologist may offer you some talking therapy. 

Doctors will help you understand and manage your tinnitus, but they will not usually be able to stop it happening. 

The most important thing is to keep doing the things you enjoy. You may do things differently, such as having background music on when you are reading. 

Most people find that their tinnitus gets much better over time. 

When it first starts it can be frightening, but you will notice it less and less. 


Things that can help 

Talk to someone who also has tinnitus 

Join a Tinnitus Support Group near to where you live. 

Call the Tinnitus UK helpline on 0800 018 0527 

Relax more so that you feel less stressed. 

An easy way to relax is to find a quiet place and take a few slow, deep breaths. Maybe have some music on in the background. 

Really notice how your breaths enters your body, then leaves it. Keep breathing like this until you feel calm. 

A lot of people find that background sound helps them. A radio, music, or natural sounds like birdsong or a river. 

Meditation and mindfulness can help you find ‘peace and quiet’. 

Use your ways of relaxing to help you to sleep well. 

You will find the things that help you most. 


Take care of your hearing 

Avoid noisy places. 

Wear ear protectors in noisy places. 

If you find that everyday sounds are painful, you may have hyperacusis, which means that you are very sensitive to sound. Talk to your doctor about this. 

More information 

The internet has lots of information, but some of the information about hearing aids and tinnitus is not right or helpful. 

Information from Tinnitus UK comes from experts, and you can rely on it to be right. 

For more information about tinnitus, call the Tinnitus UK helpline on 0800 018 0527. 

Tinnitus UK is the only national UK charity that just helps people with tinnitus. 

We are an independent charity supporting hundreds of thousands of people who have tinnitus, helping to make their lives better. 

As we get no government or NHS funding, the support we provide can only be offered with the help of donors and supporters who give us money. 

If you would like to help us support others with tinnitus please donate online: tinnitus.org.uk/join-the-cause/donate/ 


Other leaflets in Easy Read 

  • Tinnitus and hearing aids 
  • Self help for tinnitus  
  • Tinnitus services 

Tinnitus UK tries very hard to make sure our information is right, but it cannot tell you everything.  You should always check with your doctor. 

The booklet you can see below was written when we were called the British Tinnitus Association. You will see that name instead of Tinnitus UK, but all the other information is the same. 

Types of tinnitus

Find out about pulsatile tinnitus and musical hallucination.

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