The term 'tinnitus' or 'ringing in the ears' is derived from the Latin word for ringing. 

A person suffering from tinnitus hears several sounds, which cannot be heard outside the head:
whistles, buzzing, hissing, ringing or humming up to and including waterfall sounds.

If the cilia in the ear are damaged, you will hear poorly or the cilia will pass on the wrong information to the brain, such as a beep, hum or noise. Hearing sound is either a response of the brain to hearing loss, or to damage or because there is too much tension on the inner ear (misalignment or muscle tension). Tinnitus can lead to serious sleep problems or insomnia, loss of concentration, anxiety or even depression. It can have enormous consequences for daily life.


Because the sounds that are heard are not heard by others, it is often difficult to prove that 'hearing sounds' can make you 'sick' and that it is a reaction of the brain. With an (f)MRI scan, the brain area where the tinnitus is active can be localized.



There can be several causes for tinnitus:

  • noise exposure (above 80 decibels)
  • physical causes such as:
    • hearing loss (sudden deafness, gradual hearing loss, Meniere's
    • disease, bridge angle tumor, and other balance disorders, ear plug, congenital hearing loss, etc.)
    • loss of physical condition (exhaustion, long-term drug or alcohol use, lack of sleep, anesthesia, illness, Lyme disease, etc.)
    • high blood pressure
    • infectious diseases
    • concussion
    • whiplash
    • bone trauma to the neck or base of the skull
    • jaw abnormality
    • stiff muscles of the neck
    • consequences of chemotherapy. The medication can affect the organ of Corti (organ in the inner ear).
    • side effect of anesthesia (very rare)
    • (worsening of tinnitus by) COVID-19
  • overstimulation in brain injury
  • stress, psychological overload (trauma, threats, tensions, burnout, worries, informal care, lack of sleep, corona crisis, etc.)
  • side effect of medications

There is often an overlap between these causes.


Listen carefully!
Many names about sound sensitivity are lumped together. On the hyperacusis page we explain the differences between:


Experience it?
Do you want to experience what someone with tinnitus hears? Below is a video with the different tinnitus sounds.



For more information you can check the website of the American Tinnitus Association. In the UK there is a Tinnitus helpline.