Tinnitus is the perception of noises in the head and/or ears which has no external source. It is not a disease or illness; it is a symptom generated within the auditory system. The noise may be in one or both ears, or in the head, or it may be difficult to pinpoint its exact location. The noise may be low, medium or high pitched. There may be a single noise or two or more components. The noise may be continuous or it may come and go. Experiences of tinnitus are very common in all age groups, especially following exposure to loud noise. About 10% of the UK adult population have permanent tinnitus.
The causes of tinnitus are still not fully understood, but tinnitus can be associated with:
Hearing loss – the delicate hair cells in the inner ear may reduce in number due to ‘wear and tear’ as people age. This gradual change can cause hearing loss, which makes tinnitus more noticeable as it is not masked by external sound.
Exposure to loud noise – hair cells can also be damaged by exposure to loud noise, which could generate tinnitus.
Stress and anxiety – it is not always clear whether stress causes the onset of tinnitus. However, tinnitus may be more noticeable if you are anxious or stressed.
Ear infections – middle ear infections can cause hearing loss and tinnitus. Symptoms will normally be temporary, but it is important to have the underlying infection treated by a GP.
There are several strategies that can be very helpful in managing the condition:
Information – people with tinnitus often feel better when they find out more about the condition, that it is very common and that they are not alone.
Counselling – techniques such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be helpful, either as a standalone therapy or combined with sound therapy.
Correcting any hearing loss – if tinnitus is accompanied by any hearing loss, then trying to correct this loss with hearing aids is often very helpful.
Sound therapy – if the noises seem louder at quiet times, particularly during the night, it may help to have some environmental or natural sound from a CD, a sound generator, or even a fan or ticking clock in the background. Some people use in-ear sound generators.
Relaxation – those who practice relaxation techniques say they reduce the loudness of their tinnitus and helps them become indifferent to it.
You can get more information from the British Tinnitus Association (Ground Floor, Unit 5, Acorn Business Park, Woodseats Close, Sheffield S8 0TB) a national charity which is a world leader in providing support and advice about tinnitus. It provides accurate, reliable and authoritative information, much of it written by medical professionals or clinical researchers.
Many of our members have experience in helping with tinnitus and you can find the nearest to you by going to Find an Audiologist