CONDITIONS A-Z

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is not an illness or disease. Tinnitus is a term that describes the sensation of hearing a noise in the absence of an external sound. The noise can have virtually any quality. Ringing, whistling and buzzing are common but more complex sounds are also reported.

What does Tinnitus Sound Like?

The sound of Tinnitus varies from one person to another. The noises are usually described as buzzing, whistling and ringing which can manifest at a range of volumes from a low, ambient noise to a level that can seem overwhelming. Some people hear the noise as a low frequency; others find it either medium or high pitched. The noise may be continuous for some people and may come and go in others.

What Causes Tinnitus?

The cause of tinnitus is most commonly linked to frequent and/or prolonged exposure to loud noise, which can damage the auditory system and increase the risk of getting tinnitus or potentially make an existing condition worse. However a host of other factors can increase the possibility of getting tinnitus, including sudden mental or physical changes i.e retirement, redundancy, depression, health concerns or bereavement. The onset of tinnitus can be sudden or can become more apparent over time.

Who Does Tinnitus Affect?

There is a widely held misconception that tinnitus is confined to the elderly, but it can affect anyone of any age, sex or nationality. Mild tinnitus is very common – about 10% of the population will have it at all the time, and in up to 1% of adults it will affect their quality of life. People who are hard of hearing can also experience tinnitus.

Is There a Cure for Tinnitus?

At  present there is no cure for tinnitus. But the BTA is dedicated to helping find one and therefore the charity funds and helps advance clinical research that will benefit millions of people in the UK and worldwide. Anyone who thinks they have tinnitus should see their GP to rule out any treatable cause.

Managing Tinnitus

While there is currently no known ‘cure’ for tinnitus there are a range of strategies that can help to minimise the intrusiveness of the noises. People can, and do, manage the impact that tinnitus has on their lives. Here are some things that may help:

  • Exercise: exercise regularly to boost “feel-good” endorphins, to gain a sense of wellbeing and lower stress levels.

  • Relax: It is well documented that stress exacerbates the experience of tinnitus so try to relax as much as possible. Many people try acupuncture and reflexology to help manage stress levels and improve their experience of tinnitus. See benefits of mediation and How to Get Started.

  • Music: Listening to music can help as it distracts from the tinnitus noise, but be careful to avoid prolonged exposure to loud music which can make tinnitus worse.

  • Diet: Take steps to improve your health through diet so that you are fitter and healthier which can make you feel better when you have tinnitus. Avoid alcohol and caffeine as much as possible, particularly near bed time. Stick to soft drinks and stay well hydrated.

  • Products: There are a range of products that can help.  You can get these from the British Tinnitus Association.

  • Expert Help: the BTA is a world leader in Tinnitus support. You can contact them on 0800 018 0527

  • Support Groups: Join a tinnitus support group. More information is available on the BTA website: http://www.tinnitus.org.uk/

  • Family and Friends: make sure your family and friends understand tinnitus.

Preventing Tinnitus

Question: “I have a tickets to a rock concert and I am worried it will be too loud. What should I do to protect my hearing?”

Answer:

  • Limit the exposure – if you can step outside to give your ears some time to recover, rather than it being non-stop exposure.

  • Limit the exposure by wearing ear plugs. If the music is really loud, this may actually, and paradoxically, allow you to hear things better.

  • Keep well hydrated – ears work better with a good blood supply – so if it is hot and you are dancing and sweating, then drink plenty of fluids to make up for the loss.

  • Try not to go to too many rock concerts close together – give things some time to recover before the next concert – a few days should be sufficient.

How Wearing Earplugs Prevents Tinnitus

Earplugs are designed to reduce the level of noise entering the ear and they prevent the ear becoming saturated with sound. Earplugs can help to cut out the harmful effects or discomfort of very loud music, when hammering metal, using power tools or when you are near noisy motors or machinery. They are inexpensive and if you do have a specific reuirement specialised and cutom-made ear plugs are available.

Earplugs are easy to obtain and well worth the investment. You can get generic earplugs from your chemist, DIY shop or builder’s yard. More specific or specialised earplugs can be obtained from reputable companies.

How Close Is A Cure For Tinnitus?

We are closer than ever to a cure for tinnitus. In the past decade, tinnitus research  has made tremendous progress, and we have learned allot about the mechanisms that are involved in the development of tinnitus. A very significant part of this progress has come from a switch of perspective: although tinnitus can be triggered in the ear, the processes that keep it going and make it a problem are in the brain, so tinnitus can be approached from a neuroscience perspective. This broadened scope has attracted the interest of brain researchers and today more research groups than ever before are involved in the research. The picture of the mechanisms that lead to the development of tinnitus has become much clearer and it is expected that how the puzzle of tinnitus arises will be solved within the next decade leading to true targeted treatments.

For more information please visit the British Tinnitus Association

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