What Is Tinnitus?

Table of Contents

What Is Tinnitus Like?

Have you ever wondered, “what is tinnitus like?” Can you recall ever walking out of a loud music venue or heard a loud noise go off close by, like a gunshot? You might remember your ears were ringing or buzzing immediately afterwards. You may have sensed the noise for a few hours, especially if it was quiet.

The ringing, humming, buzzing or another sound you perceived is called temporary tinnitus. Temporary tinnitus due to exposure to loud noise is something most people have experienced. 

According to the New Zealand Medical Journal, in 2015, about 207,000 people in New Zealand aged 14 years and older answered “yes” when asked if they had experienced tinnitus in the past 12 months. 

Although you can hear tinnitus, it’s most often perceived in your brain and not generated by an acoustic source unless it’s a rare case of objective tinnitus whereby the sound has a physical explanation. Less than 1% of reported tinnitus cases in the U.S. are objective tinnitus.

The sound you perceive because of subjective tinnitus is unique to you. Many people describe it as quiet or loud, and high pitched or low pitched:

  • ringing
  • humming
  • buzzing
  • hissing
  • roaring; or
  • clicking.

What Is Tinnitus, Then?

Tinnitus is a little bit elusive. The exact cause of tinnitus remains unknown, and there is no cure; however, there are many known triggers, contributing factors and treatments available.

With normal hearing, you hear authentic sounds — birdsong, conversation, car horns — or silence. If you live with tinnitus, the ringing in your ears disrupts normal hearing and may make it harder to hear everyday sounds and experience silence.

Tinnitus is not a disease in itself and is generally caused by an underlying condition. Tinnitus may also be a symptom of damage to your hearing system, such as age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) or even a physical injury.

There are also a few different types of tinnitus described below.

Types of Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a complex condition that’s often unique to each individual. There are two main categories of tinnitus.

  1. Subjective tinnitus is most common and means you’re the only one who can hear the noises.
  2. Objective tinnitus means your doctor can also hear the physical source of the tinnitus noise when examining you (this is very rare).

Subjective tinnitus includes:

Pulsatile tinnitus usually relates to blood flow, and the sounds follow a rhythm that often matches your heartbeat (try feeling your pulse while listening to the sounds).

Somatic Tinnitus

Somatic tinnitus relates to your sensory system. Body movements like clenching your jaw, turning your eyes or applying pressure to your head and neck can change the frequency or intensity of the symptoms.

Pulsatile Tinnitus

Pulsatile tinnitus usually relates to blood flow, and the sounds follow a rhythm that often matches your heartbeat (try feeling your pulse while listening to the sounds).

Neurological Tinnitus

Neurological tinnitus relates to an underlying neurological disorder like Meniere’s disease.

Author Bio

Ron Trounson
Ron Trounson
Ron Trounson holds a Master of Audiology (with Distinction) from the University of Canterbury. He has been in the hearing industry since 2010 and has a broad knowledge of ear disorders, hearing loss, hearing aids and specialised hearing devices.

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