Tinnitus 

Introduction 

Tinnitus (BSL version)

An audiologist explains the possible causes and effects of tinnitus, plus how to deal with them. Ashleigh, who was diagnosed with tinnitus in 2005, describes how she copes with it.

Media last reviewed: 30/09/2013

Next review due: 30/09/2015

Who is affected by tinnitus?

Tinnitus is more common in people aged over 65, but it can affect people of all ages, including children.

In the UK, around 6 million people (10% of the population) are thought to have mild tinnitus, with about 600,000 (1%) experiencing it to a severity where it affects their quality of life.

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of problem-solving therapy – find out more here

Tinnitus is a term that describes any sound a person can hear from inside their body rather than from an outside source.

Although tinnitus is often described as 'ringing in the ears', several sounds can be heard including:

  • buzzing
  • humming
  • grinding
  • hissing
  • whistling
  • sizzling

Sometimes, the noise associated with tinnitus beats in time with a person’s pulse. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus.

Read more about the different types of tinnitus.

Most people learn to live with tinnitus, but it can often have a significant impact on day-to-day life. For example, it can affect concentration and cause sleeping problems and depression.

However, tinnitus itself is a condition that isn’t harmful and usually improves over time. Although there’s currently no single treatment that works in the same way for everyone, if an underlying cause can be established it can often be effectively treated (see below).

What causes tinnitus?

A build-up of earwax, a middle ear infection or a problem with your inner ear (such as Ménière's disease) can sometimes be responsible for the sounds of tinnitus.

It's important to establish what triggers your tinnitus, whether there are particular times of the day when it's more noticeable, and whether there's anything that makes it better or worse.

For example, some people find their tinnitus is worse when they're stressed or anxious and improves when they're calm and relaxed.

Occasionally, temporary tinnitus can be the result of a blow to the head or a sudden, loud noise, such as an explosion or gunfire.

Read more about the causes of tinnitus.

Diagnosing tinnitus

See your GP if you're continually hearing sounds such as buzzing, ringing or humming, or if you have regular episodes of hearing these sounds.

They will ask about the noises and examine your ears. Your GP may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist or an audiologist (a specialist in hearing disorders).

The specialist will carry out tests to help rule out possible underlying causes. They'll also look at your medical history and ask about the type and severity of the noises you hear.

Read more about diagnosing tinnitus.

Treating tinnitus

At the moment there's no single treatment for tinnitus that works in the same way for everyone. However, research to find an effective treatment is continuing.

If an underlying cause of your tinnitus can be found, effectively treating it may help improve your tinnitus. For example, if a build-up of earwax is responsible, eardrops or ear irrigation (using a pressurised flow of water to remove the earwax) may be recommended.

If a specific cause can't be established, the focus will be on helping you manage the condition on a daily basis.

As tinnitus is often most noticeable in quiet environments, background noise such as music or the television can help distract you from the sound of tinnitus.

Listening to natural relaxing sounds, such as the sound of rain or the ocean, can also help. Environmental sound generators are small, electronic devices that produce these types of soothing sounds.

Understanding tinnitus is also very important in helping you cope with it. Tinnitus counselling involves discussing your condition with a specialist counsellor. As well as learning about your condition, your counsellor will be able to suggest ways of dealing with it.

In some cases, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be helpful for tinnitus. This type of therapy aims to change the way you think about your condition so that you're able to find more effective ways of managing it on a day-to-day basis.

Read more about treating tinnitus.

Page last reviewed: 12/09/2013

Next review due: 12/09/2015

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Comments

The 37 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Martin W Green said on 01 August 2014

I have been aware of my tinnitus since the mid 80s but have generally been able to 'tune it out' by concentrating on other things. I have never sustained any ear damage, or listened to loud music with earphones or worked in a noisy environment so can't think of a direct cause.

Recently it has become more of a problem though consisting of a continuous low hum and deafening high pitched notes. When I have little to occupy my mind or I'm under stress I do certainly become more aware of it.

One interesting observation I read about some years back from American scientists working in anechoic chambers or 'quiet rooms' was that the low hum is the sound of blood circulating in the body whilst the high rings are the sound of the body's central nervous system. Based upon this premise I have never sought medical advice as I was of the opinion that there was no way to remedy the condition. . Maybe as an individual I am more attuned to the sounds of my own body....

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victoria65 said on 28 July 2014

I would like to know if people diagnosed with mernieres disease are entitled to benefits dla or pip as it is known now

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25SheW said on 22 July 2014

I went to the hearing clinic after getting high pitched ringing in my ears after having a bad bout of flu, They did loads of hearing test and gave me a MRI scan but they didn't find nothing sinister so they said that it was tinnitus I think the initial cause was when I was younger I use to work in noisey factories before you ever got to wear ear protectors. I think I am going to have to go and have my ears tested again because I think my hearing is getting worse keep asking people to repeat them selves..

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25SheW said on 22 July 2014

I have had Tinitus about 7 year, Ihave an high pitched whistle in one ear and what sounds like a Heavy Machinery in the other, Ifind that i dont like having the tv on loud , and cannot hear peope talking if there is to much back ground noise, i find that it affects me if im stressed or got a cold...

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palacemad said on 21 June 2014

I developed tinnitus this year 2014 and its driving me mad! Also getting regulars headaches don't know if this is connected or not. A lot worse of a night trying to get to sleep. The only way for me to top it for a while is to put on headphones while watching tv, but the only downside to that it gives me a headache when I take them off. My Tinnitus is a loud ringing in both ears, Feel for all sufferers.

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jamesentaylor said on 01 November 2013

Will Acoustic Coordinated Reset (CR) Neuromodulation be offered as treatment for tinnitus? There is a randomised trial occurring at National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Nottingham for The Tinnitus Clinic. If those results when published next year are promising will it be offered by the NHS or take time for NICE to agree?

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Musto said on 14 October 2013

The tinnitus topic has recently been reviewed and a number of significant changes have been made. All of the pages have been updated and where necessary rewritten. In particular, the importance of seeking medical help has been highlighted if a person is experiencing tinnitus sounds so that possible underlying causes can be investigated and appropriate treatment can be given.

Editorial team , NHS Choices

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capricornianman said on 24 September 2013

I never had tinnitus until I had my ear wax removed by suction.It hurt and the young Doctor pierced my eardrum and I got instant vertigo where the whole room spun round.It lasted a few minutes.I went home had earache/headache bouts of dizziness and Tinnitus in my right ear.Constant ringing and sometimes like a clock ticking.This all happened in Jan 2013.I went back this month and told them what I had experienced.Nothing said apart from did I want a hearing aid.Im not deaf!! Really annoyed that they let loose young doctors without being supervised.Meanwhile I suffer.

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Martin2013 said on 01 April 2013

I have suffered with tinnitus for 11 years and it is certainly a slippery beast. The doctor who finds the cure will win the Nobel prize for medicine. Technology is moving quite fast now. Try googling dysfunstional Eustachian tubes. I think narrowing and blocking of these tubes with age could well account for a lot of tinnitus.

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MegLeo said on 18 March 2013

I'm not sure if it's tinnitus, but I occasionally get a loud, very high-pitched ringing sound in one ear after a few seconds of sudden deafness. Sometimes it's accompanied by pain, and is more apparent when there's no background noises. Does anyone know what this could be? It's annoying when it happens but not life affecting.

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mikepeters471 said on 12 December 2012

I agree Tinnitus is definitely a medical condition, that can be difficult to manage. The US veterans audiology team have developed a progressive tinnitus management programme. This plan aims to manage tinnitus and is effective and well researched. For more information and a series of articles please see:
http://www.enetmd.com/content/tinnitus

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giorgione3 said on 03 October 2012

I'm delighted that NHS choices have finally listened to the previous comments complaining about this webpage claiming that tinnitus wasn't a medical condition and have corrected this webpage.

Specifically NHS Choices have removed the sentence:

"Tinnitus is a symptom rather than a condition itself

From this page.

This confusing sentence appeared to deny that tinnitus was a medical condition. I'm glad that NHS Choices have seen sense and removed this sentence.This is a victory for all tinnitus activists. Now all NHS choices need to do is admit that they should never have included the sentence in the first place.

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emm1990 said on 21 September 2012

Why is NHS choices patronising and disrespecting tinnitus sufferers by claiming that tinnitus is not a medical condition. This trivializes a serious medical condition. Until NHS Choices remove this unpleasant and untrue statement we can have no faith in anything else that they claim.

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gt1985 said on 19 September 2012

NHS Choices claim that tinnitus is not a condition. How disrespectful to the many thousands of people with tinnitus in the UK. On what evidence does NHS Choices base this dubious claim? - We are not told.

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dcunningham1 said on 19 September 2012

NHS Choices continues its policy of belittling tinnitus sufferers by refusing to recognize that tinnitus is a medical condition. Just a symptom not a condition say NHS choices - on the basis of whose medical judgement they refuse to say - tell that to the many thousands suffering from this mere "symptom".

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rathomo said on 09 September 2012

My tinnitus has recently got worse after a bout of sore throat. I am trying to be positive and would appreciate opinions on CBT

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DebbieMc said on 30 August 2012

I have been suffering with the ringing/buzzing in both ears for several months and my doctor said it was most likely caused by a virus that causes nerve damage. Thus nothing that can be done. I don't mind the days when it's rather quiet, but some days it drives me crazy!!!

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Grandma White said on 15 May 2012

I have suffered from Tinnitus for over 30 years. I have different sounds in each ear. One whistles and the other has a throbbing noise. I also feel quite dizzy all of the time. I, as everyone else, have mentioned it to my doctor on several occasions but know that physically not much can be done, other than try to mask the noise - and I have found that it is best to just try and get on with life. It is not a life threatening condition and I think that being quite a placid person helps. I have a friend who is not at all placid and she cannot cope with her tinnitus. Yes it is a jolly nuisance and if I get a cold or sinisitis it becomes even louder. I am sorry to say that if you can tell yourself that it could be worse - cancer or ms then you can most of the time try to ignore it and have quiet music playing to try and consentrate of other things when your environment is quiet. Being in a car with well fitting doors and windows also makes the sounds louder, so I put the radio on quietly. I also have a problem with my eyes and this makes me even more unstable on my arthritic feet! All good fun - not! But take heart, live life to the full, and thank God for all the bits of us that do work!

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jayveecee said on 09 May 2012

In the 1940's when I was a small child I developed pulsatile tinnitus, which followed a severe case of mumps. My mother took me to the old family doctor, as I couldn't sleep with the noise of it. He dismissed it & told me lots of people had this problem, but I just had to stop listening to it - his words. As a doctor in the 40's was next to God my mother told me to do just that. I suppose it worked as now in my 70's I am only troubled by it when I am very tired, late at night. Easier for a small child to adjust than an adult, I did as I was told, unacceptable as this attitude would be today.

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Ron555 said on 06 May 2012

Hi menace61, like you I have suffered with this for as long as I can remember, some days worse than others, at the moment I have 2 tones in both ears really loud, its as if I reckon that if you put a stethoscope to my head you would hear it. I also had dizzyness a couple of years ago, went to a specialist and was diagnosed with Benign Peroxysmal Positional Vertigo, BPPV, caused by "small rocks" moving about in the middle ear and was given some excercises to perform which I did, it seemed to help but not entirely. So I googled BPPV and found this thing called " Dizzyfix", I sent off for it because it made sense to me, after a few sessions with this contraption the dizzynes completely stopped, it looks cheap, but there has been alot of research put in to this thing and it really works. Sadly, the tinnitus is still there, but feeling much better about the fear of falling over, or worse when driving. Hope this helps, and I wish you well..

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menace61 said on 24 April 2012

I also have been suffering from this condition for over 30 years now, and the sound is also gotten louder and louder in my left ear, and it has caused me dizziness, I also fall over people think I am drunk, my family have been superb and my wife is a God send as she know's what to do after all these years, and the sustained attacks with the dizziness. I also have a problem concentrating on anything for long, and the noise makes it so hard for me to get to sleep. My GP over thr years has sent me for so may tests MRI - Ultrasound - also wearing Monitors for ages but to no avail - they also said I might have a thing called Labyrinthitis I am not convinced but I do have all the symptoms of this, I was given tablets which made me worse so I stopped taking them, I am resigned to having this for the rest of my days I am now 62 yrs old and have done my hell on Earth with this dibiliting and distressing disorder. I fell sorry for all those who have it or will suffer as I am, dont give up, I have a wonderful family, I thank God every day for my Children and Grandchildren and my Beautiful wife, talk to other sufferers they are living it now..



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rhinoman said on 12 April 2012

i have suffered with tinnitus now for six months i suffer horrendous head aches at times i am sick nearly every morning the buzzing and whistling is driving me mad,i can not concentrate at work and because of the pressure in my head i have become severely absent minded. i have these symtoms twenty four seven,i have recentley been for two mri scans which i bottled at the last minute because i came across very clostraphobic,i have to play a walkman all day and night to mask the noises i am at my wits end any advise please age 51 male

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dhc1970 said on 09 April 2012

I found the information in this website unhelpful for the following reasons:
1. “Tinnitus is a symptom rather than a condition itself” this downgrades the importance of tinnitus for its many sufferers. Yes, tinnitus can be a symptom of other illnesses but it is also a very serious condition in itself. NHS choices then contradicts itself by going on to state that “Tinnitus is a common condition”. So which is it NHS Choices – please make your mind up Is it a condition or not?
2. You state that” only 1 in 200 people are severely affected by tinnitus”. What is the evidence for this sweeping claim? If it is based on a survey, when was the survey done and what was the number of respondents? Once again this is an unproven assertion designed to downplay the significance of tinnitus.
At the moment there is a no medicine to treat tinnitus. Tinnitus research has been severely underfunded. If we wish to search for the reasons why we don’t need to look far.

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dhc1970 said on 09 April 2012

I found this website unhelpful in the information provided about tinnitus for the following reaons:

1. Stating that tinnitus "is a symptom rather than a condition itself" downplays the importance of tinnitus - and is in fact contradicted within your own website where you state that "tinnitus is a common condition". So is it a condition or not NHS Choices? Please make your mind up as definitions are important.

2. You state that "only 1 in 200 people are severely affected by it." Where is your factual evidence for such a sweeping generalisation? If it is based on the results of a survey please state the date of this survey and the number of respondents so that we can make our own judgements about the accuracy of this information.

Once again, you are downplaying the significance of tinnitus and how it has affected lives. If we need to know why there is such a lack of funding for tinnitus research and why no drugs have been developed to treat it we don't need to look far for the reasons.

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herehere said on 09 April 2012

Just been reading something from America which talks about surgery for tinnitus which has been very successful according to some patients - has anyone heard anything over here about this treatment?

Can relate to all who have commented about not being able to sleep due to the sounds!! I also suffer from hot soles of feet and legs whilst trying to get to sleep which is a very disturbing combination of both problems!

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GraS said on 02 March 2012

I will not use the term 'suffering from this condition' but have had this condition for 31 years.
Although I experience ringing/buzzing in both ears, the right is much louder.
Listening to conversation is a problem especially in places where there is other sounds.
My GP at the time explained that there was no cure and could only offer an advice group.
I have never lost any sleep or concentration to this condition and can only agree with an earlier comment 'that you just have to get on with it'.
Very much a 'mindset' that if there is no cure, you have the problem and learn to accept that prognosis.
After all these years I would miss the ringing/buzzing if it could be cured.

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Claire 0785 said on 01 February 2012

Hi. I'm hoping there is someone that can help or would be willing to offer me some advice. I'm not sure if i have Tinnitus but i have been experiencing a ringing in my ears since the beginning of December 2011, and in my right ear everytime a lady/child talks close to me it feels like my ear drum is 'squirming' around and it sort of crackles. I hear the ringing when i am in quiet places or at night when i am tired. I went to the doctors on 2 occasions and they said that the ear canal/drum looks ok and that there was a small amount of wax and they removed it but nothing has changed. Im so sensitive to sound now and wimper when people are talking to me when they are standing too close. I don't want to keep going back to the doctors for them to keep saying that everything is ok. Can anyone help me? I feel like i'm going mad!! My friends baby has been crying now and its got louder.

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HatterJo said on 16 January 2012

I've had a ringing, buzzing or pulsing noise constantly in my ears ever since I can remember. I remember going to the doctors when I was 5 or 6 and being told I was making it up for attention, and getting really upset because I thought there must be something really wrong with me if even the doctor didn't believe there was a problem.
I'm 18 now and the problem has got progressively worse, up until the point where there are days where I simply cannot hear people speaking to me. I have to use subtitles of the television and usually feel completely alienated in conversations because I miss out on so much. Yet my GP is offering no help whatsoever. I've brought it up on more than one occasion with more than one doctor, but nobody seems to be able to offer any help whatsoever. My dad has the same problem and tells me to just get on with it.
I recently had an inner ear infection, closely followed by ear ache, and this has made the problem much worse. I can't get to sleep, something which has always been a problem but it's never been so distressing as this, and I feel dizzy all the time. It's driving me mad!

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radarman said on 11 January 2012

I have quite loud tinnitus in sometimes a monaural pattern ie. from the centre of my head both sides in phase I presume. Then at another time it appears to be from each side of my head seperately ie out of phase?.
Very occasionally one side may vanish for a fraction of a second but come back, or, both sides, hence my tinnitus has gone completely but again only for a fraction of a second.
I find this difficult to put down to any form of `ear wax` or similar since I think it would not be able to do this.
I sometimes wonder if in fact the part of my brain that deals with hearing is increasing the sensitivity (as possibly happens normally during sleep to protect from predators in the distant past) when it shouldn`t ie during waking hours, is it possible as in electronic circuits that sensitivity can be increased seperately to the volume?
In fact is tinnitus caused by the brain and not hearing?
I would like to hear any other sufferers views.

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Phil Osophy said on 16 December 2011

I'm into my 4th week with tinnitus...a loud, intense and high-pitched noise in my head...feel devastated.
I've discovered there is help - The British Tinnitus Association website is very helpful -:
http://www.tinnitus.org.uk/
Also there brilliant forum provides support and knowledge from other sufferers.

Get a referral from your GP to see an ENT consultant...to determine possible causes...often there is no identifiable cause. Thereafter, you should be referred on to an audiologist or/and hearing therapist.. If your Doctor is not amenable to provide a referral, see another Doctor(s).

Avoid quiet rooms. Playing natural sounds in the background can help distract the brain from tuning in to the noise. Try to avoid stress and be positive...I know, easy to say...

To help me sleep, my GP has precribed Temazepam...they can be addictive, but I'm desperate for some sleep.

Goodluck....

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User621878 said on 03 December 2011

I had Tinnitus 8 years ago. I just had the ringing in the ears and loss of balance, but fortunatley it went after a few months.
Recently i,ve been diagnosed with Tinnitus again, this time its a lot worse. Its unbearable.
Not only do I have a high pitched "percussion" band in my head, my balance is affected, and because of that I get nausious.
I cant/dont sleep well, I average 4 hours before I wake up. I,ve also started getting bad headaches...I dont know if thats related to Tinnitus or maybe severe lack of sleep.
I have to have "aids" fitted in a couple of weeks, so hopefully this will make a change. My G.P wont give me anything to help me sleep, but she did tell me I looked "tired"..good god, "tired" i,m knackered !
Well I,ve had a good moan now...

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Napoleon Plural said on 31 October 2011

I feel there is some misinformation about tinnitus in terms of whether it is curable or not. It depends what kind of tinnitus you have, not all of it is down to loud noise that's damaged the tiny hairs in the ears.

If you've experienced flu, have a recent tendency to drink pints and pints of water, feel exhausted just climbing the stairs, then you may have a virus-related tinnitus which is treatable and can disappear. It can reappear at times of stress or when you are run down. For this I recommend 2 liquid capsule Neurofens before you go to sleep; the reason it wakes you up at night is the body temperature rises, and with it the tendency to inflammation.

Also, have a low, ambient soothing CD on very low to take you out of yourself a bit more, it is when the room is dead silent that you only hear the ringing. This works whether your tinnitus is permanent or not. And avoid most types of coffee, even decaff, and cola drinks.

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llulu said on 30 October 2011

Hello, for the past two weeks i have had a ringing and buzzing senstion in my ears. I had my ears sucutioned yeterday as it was due to wax blockege. When i originally saw my doctor he warned me that the noise can last for about a week after haveing the procedure but when i went to have the treatment, the first thing the nurse said to me was that it could be permanent. I dont think the noise has got any worse but my ears still feel blocked (the left one particularly) and feel as though they are trying to pop and i've noticed a bit of pain too as well as the fact that i can hear myself swallowing.. Is this normal and is it more likely that the noise will go within a few days as it's just down to wax?

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wroostanov said on 04 January 2010

@dragonfly

Have you looked up Meniere's disease? The loss of balance reminded me of this.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ménière's_disease

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Menieres-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Hope that helps!

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JEROMEB said on 01 November 2009

I would recommend you see a specialist.
Go to this webpage, it might be of aid to you. this is a french doctor but I believe many information are in English.
http://www.clinique-causse.com/index_uk.html

Hearing tinnitus, noise in the ear is either something due to stress and your brain cannot filter noises out it used to (very simplified) or due to a physical trauma in your ear. The ear got wounded and healed with a scar. the ringing can be the signature of this scar.
Pay attention also that this is not linked with a loss of auditive capacity. If you are exposed to a sudden violent noise (disco very loud, any enclosed places) you might have a sudden hearing trauma (translation from the French)
The loss in hearing related to this is DEFITNITIVE
I was recently told however that if you act very quicly after the trauma (within hours on the same day) you can save your hearing capacity. Acting means going to the right doctor who will probably give you the right type of medication and will probably have you hospitalised for a couple of days maybe a week. I received such a treatment 10 years ago in Germany.

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Mloclam said on 16 July 2009

I've suffered about 7 months now in the left ear. Similarly, it is having a real effect on many aspects of my life - concentration is very difficult and studying my MCP coursework is getting to be impossible, and I've given up hoping for much than four hours sleep a night, until every fourth or fifth night I am so knackered I manage a good nights sleep. It's driving me nuts.

Went to see the GP - he says its all in my head (well, duh!) and suggested inhaling Olbas Oil. Didn't make a bit of difference.

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dragonfly said on 16 May 2009

Have been suffering from this condition for over a year now, and the sound is getting louder and louder.
Only in one ear, and it has caused me dizziness, which then 'helped' me to fall over and cause damage to knees and wrists. I cannot concentrate on anything for long and the noise makes it take ages for me to get to sleep.

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Speak to a GP if you think you may have tinnitus