“Tinnitus is the term for the sensation of hearing a sound in the absence of any external sound”
Tinnitus is common, reported in all age groups, and roughly one in eight people in the UK have tinnitus. Men are more likely to experience tinnitus than women and it is more common in those who have had ear problems or hearing loss.
Those who experience tinnitus can hear many different types of sounds; ringing, clicking, buzzing, low humming etc. These sounds can occur continuously or they can come and go. The sound can be heard in one ear, in both ears, or can seem as if it is coming from somewhere around you. Essentially, the experience of tinnitus is different for different people.
Tinnitus isn’t a condition itself — it’s a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder. Some causes of tinnitus include:
Ear damage: Tiny, delicate hairs in your inner ear move in relation to the pressure of sound waves. This triggers cells to release an electrical signal through a nerve from your ear (auditory nerve) to your brain. Your brain interprets these signals as sound. If the hairs inside your inner ear are bent or broken, they can “leak” random electrical impulses to your brain, which are interpreted as sounds, thus causing tinnitus. Its is important to protect your ears against prolonged loud noises which causes this kind of damage.
Smoking: Smokers have a higher risk of developing tinnitus.
Cardiovascular problems: Conditions that affect your blood flow, such as high blood pressure or narrowed arteries can increase your risk of tinnitus.
Age: As you age, the number of functioning nerve fibers in your ears declines, possibly causing hearing problems often associated with tinnitus.
You should make an appointment to see your doctor if:
- You develop tinnitus after an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, and your tinnitus doesn’t improve within a week
- You have tinnitus that occurs suddenly or without an apparent cause
- You have hearing loss or dizziness with the tinnitus
Tinnitus usually isn’t a sign of something serious and for many people, tinnitus can improve with treatment.
Things that can help
Relaxation: Tinnitus can make you feel anxious, stressed, and afraid when you experience it for the first time. These feelings can exaggerate how much you notice your tinnitus. Learning to relax is one of the best ways you can help yourself cope with tinnitus, especially if you are having difficulty sleeping.
Hearing aids: These can be especially helpful if you have hearing problems as well as tinnitus.
Background noise: Tinnitus is usually more noticeable in a quiet environment so when there is other sound present, your tinnitus might not seem as bad. People find that using background noise such as the radio, white noise machines, or natural sounds helps them cope with tinnitus.
Earwax removal: Removing impacted earwax can decrease tinnitus symptoms.
The British Tinnitus Association lists some professional help you can seek if you’re suffering from tinnitus.
The main ones are:
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy: This is a very structured approach to managing tinnitus. It is based on the idea that we can get used to sounds, e.g. the sound of the fridge or air conditioner, so we can also get used to this sound of tinnitus. The process of getting used to the tinnitus sound is called habituation. TRT uses sound generators and counselling to attempt to retrain how the brain processes sound so that you habituate to the tinnitus. Most people working in the tinnitus field will use elements of TRT but the strict method is not frequently used because there is limited evidence for its effectiveness.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: This treatment is based on the idea that when you became aware of your tinnitus, you responded to it negatively. For example, you may have thought there was something seriously wrong with your hearing (a belief) and this led to you being anxious (an emotion), and you then tried to feel better, for example by avoiding silence (a behaviour). Some beliefs and/or behaviours are unhelpful and CBT helps you to recognise them, and then you work together with the clinician to find different ways of responding to the tinnitus so it becomes less bothersome.
For more information on professional help you can seek click here
3rd – 9th February 2020 is Tinnitus Week – Without research, we won’t find a cure for tinnitus, so this Tinnitus Week (and beyond!) we’re campaigning for the Government to make investment in tinnitus research a priority. Click here to sign the petition!