Listen up!

It's Tinnitus Week

Time to listen

The term tinnitus comes from the Latin word for ringing. It's the awareness of noises in the head and/or ear that have no external source. Those living with the condition may have to endure a ringing, buzzing, hissing, whistling or other sounds. The experience of tinnitus is different for different people.  The sensation can be in one or both ears or feel like it is in the head.  The sounds can be constant, intermittent, vary in volume and can move around. These symptoms are usually caused by an underlying condition.

Tinnitus is very common and is reported in all age groups, even young children. About 30% of people will experience tinnitus at some point in their lives but the number of people who live with persistent tinnitus is approximately 13% (over 1 in 8). Tinnitus is more common in people who have hearing loss or other ear problems, but it can also be found in people with normal hearing.

Most people find that it doesn’t affect them in any way, whilst some find it moderately annoying, with others finding it very troublesome.  Studies have shown that, over time, tinnitus in most cases disappears completely or the noises reduce to a manageable level as the brain loses interest and stops listening for the signal.  The time that takes varies from person to person – but it does happen!

What causes tinnitus?

In many people with tinnitus, the cause is unknown; however, it usually results from a mental or physical change not necessarily related to the ear. One of the most common causes of tinnitus is damage to the hair cells within the inner ear.  This tends to happen as people age or from prolonged exposure to excessively loud noise. In some cases, it may relate to:

  • Hearing loss
  • Exposure to noise over prolonged periods or exposure to louder noise over a shorter period of time
  • Stress, anxiety or depression
  • Ear infections
  • Conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders or multiple sclerosis
  • Earwax buildup
  • Ménière's Disease
  • Glue Ear
  • Otosclerosis
  • Perforated eardrum
  • Taking certain medication – tinnitus can be a side effect of some chemotherapy medicines, antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and aspirin.

Do I need tests?

Your GP will usually examine your ears to see if your tinnitus is caused by something that they can treat, such as a build-up of wax or an ear infection.  They may check for any hearing loss and you may be referred to a specialist for further tests or treatment.

Can anything help or cure tinnitus?

Although there is currently no cure for tinnitus, there are several strategies that can be very helpful in learning to manage the condition:

  • CBT counselling can be helpful
  • Use of hearing aids to correct hearing loss
  • Sound therapy to create alternative sounds
  • Specialist tinnitus clinics help with relaxation techniques such as yoga or deep breathing
  • There are also special tinnitus support groups that can help.

Preventing tinnitus

  • Try to avoid ear infections by keeping earplugs or hearing aids clean. Don’t put things in your ears - including cottonbuds. Ears clean themselves naturally but if you are worried about build-up of wax, seek advice from your GP, nurse or pharmacist
  • Keep a healthy life balance to avoid a build-up of stress and anxiety.  Do things you enjoy and stay fit, eat well and enjoy life
  • Protect your ears from loud noises with ear protection, avoid standing close to speakers and make sure your headphones are set to a safe level
  • If you work in a noisy environment, use hearing protection
  • Ears can cope better with loud sounds if you give them regular breaks; take some time out from noisy environments to let them have a rest.

The theme of Tinnitus Week 2020 is tinnitus research - urgently needed to help find a cure for the condition.

The British Tinnitus Association has a great leaflet

Take a look