Tinnitus is a common condition and is characterised by a ringing, hissing or other unwanted sounds that appear to originate in the head or body. Tinnitus is not a disease itself but is usually a symptom of some other underlying condition or as a result of damage to the inner ear. It affects many people and can be a great cause of distress and anxiety.
IS IT IN THE EAR OR THE BRAIN?
Our brain is updated constantly with new information. Neurons or nerve cells in the brain receive signals from our ears about what is happening in our environment and process this information. When there is a hearing loss, these electrical signals from the ear diminish, but the brain is still on alert and waiting for information.
In its efforts to make sense of this lack of sound input the brain becomes more aware of previously ignored electrical signals and these are perceived as new sounds, or tinnitus.
CAUSES OF TINNITUS
The most common cause is damage to the inner ear, the cochlea, as a result of exposure to very loud noise, a side effect of certain prescription drugs, or even if your ear is blocked with wax. Changes in blood pressure can also trigger tinnitus which means it can actually be a useful ‘early warning sign’ of a more serious condition.
Any sudden drop in hearing often accompanied by tinnitus should be assessed urgently as this could be due to Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss which is a medical emergency.
HOW TO DEAL WITH TINNITUS
Seek specialist audiological help either through your GP or privately. You may be referred to an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) clinic to be assessed to rule out any serious medical condition.
Counselling can help to reduce stress and the fatigue caused by tinnitus. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), mindfulness and relaxation techniques have all become popular techniques to treat tinnitus by having a calming effect.
Hearing devices can help especially as approximately 80% of tinnitus cases are associated with some degree of hearing loss. Hearing aids enhance the sounds you want to hear, such as voices and music, and thereby lessen the noises associated with tinnitus.
Sound therapy is useful for some people and many hearing aids now have specialised tinnitus programmes which serve as a distraction from the tinnitus, especially in quiet settings.
Speak to someone who understands what it is like to live with tinnitus. You can share experiences and get advice at one of our Hear Today free events or coffee mornings. See our website for details.