Tinnitus is the term for noises heard ‘in the ear or ears’ or ‘in the head’ when no obvious source of sound is apparent. The noises are usually described as ringing, whistling, hissing, buzzing or humming, but they can take the form of almost any noise even musical sounds. In a mild form tinnitus is very common. About 10% of the adult population in the UK experience persistent tinnitus, between 2% and 5% are troubled by it and 7% of the UK population have consulted their GP about tinnitus (Davis, Hearing in Adults 2005). It is thought to be equally common among children. It can be very distressing and tiring but there are ways to get help.
Tinnitus may start suddenly or have a gradual onset. It may be related to noise exposure, colds, ear wax, syringing or surgery. It may also be related to trauma, whiplash or changes in hearing, perceived or not. Sometimes tinnitus is a side effect of medication, the most common being aspirin but usually only when taken in high doses. If you think a prescription medication may be causing or aggravating your tinnitus, ask your doctor about it.
Tinnitus can be triggered by mental or physical changes not related to the ear at all such as moving house, changing jobs or stressful events. Sometimes there is no obvious trigger at all.
As we hear with the brain rather than the ear (the function of the ear is to pick up vibration and convert it to electrical impulses) it is not surprising that the brain is central to both the perception of, and our reaction to, the tinnitus signal. In this way the brain is also central to the successful management of tinnitus.
If you think that you have tinnitus, go and see your GP. You may need to be referred to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist who will take a full medical history and examination. Based on this, medical conditions related to tinnitus can be confirmed or ruled out and therefore provide a basis for more specific tinnitus treatment.
There is a large amount of help available. Here at Sussex Audiology Centre our dedicated Hearing Therapist is on hand to give help and advice when hearing aids are unable to fill the gap or are unsuccessful in resolving hearing loss. Advice is available about equipment, e.g - which telephones work best with hearing loss/aids, which gadgets can help with the TV or listening to music, and also how to manage your environment better to make hearing easier.
Having 15 years experience in the NHS supporting people with varying degrees of hearing loss, one of the roles of our Hearing Therapist is to help people maximise the hearing they have, helping them and their families overcome some of the frustrations associated with hearing loss.
Sussex Audiology Centre, in conjunction with the British Tinnitus Association (BTA), hold a bi-monthly meeting for tinnitus sufferers. The Tinnitus Support Group meet up in Brighton and offer help and advice in a supportive environment. For more information see here: website