What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is noises heard in the ears or in the head where no obvious source or sound is apparent. These noises are variously reported to be ringing, whistling, hissing, buzzing or humming, but can take the form of almost any sound. Mild tinnitus is very common; approximately 10% of the adult population in the UK experience persistent tinnitus, between 2–5% are troubled by it, and 7% have consulted their GP (Davis, Hearing in Adults, 2005). Tinnitus can be distressing and tiring, but there are things that can help.
Tinnitus can be either sudden or gradual onset. It may be related to noise exposure, colds, ear wax, syringing, whiplash, trauma, changes in hearing or surgery. It can sometimes be a side effect of certain medications, typically aspirin – if you think this might be the case, speak to your doctor. It can also be triggered by mental or physical changes unrelated to the ear, such as stress. Sometimes there is no clear cause.
Did you know that you actually hear with your brain rather than your ear? The function of the ear is to pick up vibrations and convert these to electrical impulses, so it is the brain that is central to the perception – and thus the management – of tinnitus.
If you think you have tinnitus, you should first visit your GP, who can refer you to an ENT specialist or specialist audiology service for a hearing test and full ear examination to rule out or diagnose any medical conditions.
Most people find that tinnitus gets better with time, but if it is persistent, a tailored programme of therapy can help. At Sussex Audiology Centre, we have a dedicated Hearing Therapist available to provide help and advice on tinnitus.
Sussex Audiology Centre, in conjunction with the British Tinnitus Association (BTA), hold a bi-monthly meeting for tinnitus sufferers, the Tinnitus Support Group. The group meets in Brighton and provides a supportive environment to share help and advice.