It’s estimated that tinnitus affects 10-15% of the population (that’s around 6 million people in the UK) and yet few of us have a real understanding of what it is or what to do about it. Paul Scigala of Sound Advice Hearing answers some of the common questions on the condition...
Q. What is tinnitus?
A. The actual word ‘tinnitus’ comes from the Latin word ‘tinnire’ to ‘ring’ and it is the perception of sound in the absence of any corresponding external sound. It can be heard in one ear, both ears, or in the head itself and can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint its exact location. In other words the sound, whilst very real to the person experiencing it, is not audible to others. Tinnitus is not a disease or an illness. It is a symptom that is generated within an individual’s auditory pathway, and its precise cause is still not fully understood. There is a common myth that nothing can be done about tinnitus, but there are many therapies or aids that can help manage the condition.
Q. What does it sound like?
A. Tinnitus can take a variety of forms including ringing, buzzing, hissing, roaring, whistling and for some, it can even sound like music or singing. It can be a single noise or multiple noises and can be a continuous sound or it may just come and go. Another form of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus, where the sound may beat in time with your heart. For many, tinnitus is little more than an annoyance, – for others, it can be quite intrusive and can affect them in all aspects of their life.
Q. How common is tinnitus?
A. Tinnitus is a common condition it can happen at any age, but it is more common in people over the age of 65. It can develop gradually or can be very sudden, and likewise it can be continuous or just come and go. It is estimated that between 10 and 15% of the UK population have the condition. That’s more than six million people. Many people will experience temporary tinnitus after exposure to loud noise, such as a pop concert, but this normally fades away. Repeated exposure to loud sounds can cause damage to the sensitive inner ear, however, and this can lead to more permanent tinnitus.
Q. Causes of tinnitus?
A. There are many possible causes or triggers. Some of the most common are – ● Hearing Loss ● Noise Exposure ● Stress ● Head or neck trauma ● Medication side effects ● Outer and middle ear pathologies such as middle ear blockage, impacted wax ● Temporomandibular joint dysfunction ● Meniere’s disease and other inner ear pathologies
Q. How is tinnitus related to stress and the brain?
A. Activation of the limbic system can greatly contribute to increased stress and tinnitusrelated anxiety. The limbic system is the part of the brain that controls our emotions eg fear, anger, happiness, but it also is involved in deciding the value of our thoughts, perceptions and behaviours. Theory suggests that this part of the limbic system works like a noise cancellation system. When this system doesn’t work well, people are not able to suppress unimportant thoughts, behaviours, and perceptions – including phantom perceptions like tinnitus. There is also a vicious circle: the more you think about the tinnitus, the more anxious you become, and the more anxious you become, the more intrusive the tinnitus.
Q. What treatment is there for tinnitus?
A. There is currently no cure for tinnitus, despite increasing public awareness; tinnitus is still a little understood disorder. The solution for the majority of people is to work towards breaking the ‘vicious circle’ within the limbic system to significantly reduce the effect with tinnitus. This process, known as habituation, naturally occurs for many people (the noises diminish over time as the brain loses interest and stops concentrating on the signal). For others a more structured individual plan is necessary to achieve this effect. When a hearing loss is present with tinnitus, then hearing aids have been proven to be one of the most effective methods of reducing tinnitus perception.
Other useful tips for people suffering from tinnitus are
● Not to worry about it
● Changing emotions related to your tinnitus, trying to filter out the tinnitus signal from the conscious mind
● Keeping your mind occupied, but not to overdo things
● Use soothing music or environmental sounds quietly in the background
● Practice relaxation and taking time out for yourself
● Breathing exercises
Along with the above people can find some success with tinnitus maskers, counseling and stress management, Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The most important thing to remember is that there is certainly help available. You can visit your GP to discuss or you can have an evaluation of your tinnitus and hearing at Sound Advice Hearing. We are there to try and help reduce the impact of tinnitus on your life and enable you move forward.
Sound Advice Hearing Centre
1 Cross Street, Peterborough PE1 1XA.