While many people experience tinnitus, or a ‘ringing in the ears’ on an occasional basis, for some people, this condition is an ongoing, life affecting event. Here, we examine what tinnitus is, its causes, and the treatments that are available for sufferers.
What is tinnitus?
The medical term tinnitus refers to an awareness of sound in the ears or the head which is not caused by any external source. Such sounds are commonly described as whistling, whirring, ringing or buzzing. In some cases it may even be segments of music.
In its mildest form, tinnitus is a common problem with many people experiencing it occasionally. However, it is estimated that that around 10% of UK adults experience it frequently, with around half that number finding that it affects their quality of life.
What are the causes?
In many cases, tinnitus has short term reasons. It’s not uncommon for people to experience ringing in the ears after having been in a noisy environment, such as a concert. In other cases the cause may be an ear infection or a wax blockage, which are easily treatable with antibiotics or cleaning.
Tinnitus is often related to hearing loss, thanks to a deprivation of sound. Such causes include exposure to loud noises which damage the tiny hairs, or cilia, in the cochlea. These do not regrow. While they are more likely to be damaged by ongoing exposure to loud noise, even a single noisy event can cause harm.
Aging is another common cause of hearing loss and, therefore, tinnitus, while certain conditions, such as Meniere’s Disease can also be a cause. Other health conditions, including high blood pressure, thyroid problems, fibromyalgia, head or neck trauma, and even jaw misalignment can increase the risk. It is also believed that stress and tension can exacerbate the condition.
In some cases, medications can be the cause. Known as ototoxic, some antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants and diuretic medications can be harmful to the inner ear and affect the nerve fibres.
Whatever the cause, there are various treatments which can help.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)
As already mentioned, stress can make tinnitus worse. In these cases, using a therapy such as CBT can help sufferers to manage their stress more effectively. This may be used with TRT, which combines directive counselling with sound therapy. TRT aims to help the sufferer manage their reaction to the sounds, so that they become less aware of the noise and experience improved quality of life.
As discussed above, hearing loss which leads to sound deprivation can cause tinnitus. Many people with tinnitus also have hearing loss, which hearing aids can treat.
In some cases, a standard hearing aid is enough to solve the problem. Bilateral hearing aids have been shown to be more effective than using just one hearing aid. In other cases, a hearing aid that also offers sound therapy is the solution.
Sound therapy can be effective in treating tinnitus as it masks the sounds, or makes them less noticeable. This is achieved through the use of hearing aids. Some manufacturers produce modern hearing aids that come with specific tinnitus managing sounds as well as offering improved hearing in the usual way. These are usually low level sounds that assist in adjusting to the tinnitus sound, so that the user becomes less aware of the tinnitus and is able to live a more normal life.
Tinnitus can be a life changing event, but there are options for sufferers. Contact us at Hearing Care Centres, our experienced professionals work with you to find the right solution for your needs.
What our clients say
Two members of my family have just received excellent advice and treatment at the Chichester Centre.
My husband for ear plugs advice and my 12 year old son, who has been suffering with excessive ear wax building up for the past year or so and being told by GP that can do nothing except keep putting drops in.
Within 15 minutes he had his ears safely unblocked, using micro suction and washing, something the GP said was not available. My son is like a different child and can actually hear again.
Thank You!Mr J Llewellyn – Chichester patient