Tinnitus Uncovered

Some of the most common and upsetting comments we hear are when people with tinnitus tell us that they’ve been told that ‘nothing can be done for them’. Tinnitus is a symptom, rather than a condition, and whilst it’s correct to say that there isn’t a cure, there is a lot that can be done to control its effects.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the term used to describe any noise that can be heard by an individual, either in one ear, both ears, or in the head, in the absence of a sound source. In other words, the sound, whilst very real to the person experiencing it, is not audible to others.

Tinnitus takes a variety of forms, including ringing, buzzing, hissing, whistling and, for some, even sounding like music or singing – although this is commonly described as musical hallucination, or auditory imagery, rather than tinnitus. Another form of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus – where the sound may beat in time with your heart. For many people tinnitus is little more than an annoyance, and only noticed in very quiet situations. But, for others, tinnitus can be very intrusive and can effectively take over their lives.

How common is tinnitus?

Millions of people worldwide have experienced tinnitus and, in the UK, around 15% of the general population is affected. Many people experience temporary tinnitus after exposure to loud noise, such as a pop concert, but this usually fades overnight. However, repeated exposure to loud sounds can cause damage to the sensitive inner ear, and this can lead to more permanent tinnitus. When a person experiences tinnitus for the first time, it can be quite frightening. Because so many people are affected by tinnitus, often the advice given when consulting GPs may be to ‘see how it goes’ or to ‘learn to live with it.’ Unfortunately, this advice is not particularly helpful to the person experiencing the tinnitus.

The causes of tinnitus.

Tinnitus has many possible causes or triggers. Some of the most common are:

This list is not definitive – many people may not have experienced any of the above but still experience tinnitus. What is known, however, is that the perception of sound takes place in the brain and that it is possible for the brain to ‘hear’ a sound in the absence of any signal. When a person hears this ‘phantom’ sound a reaction takes place similar to the fight or flight response experienced by our ancestors.

This reaction leads to the release of hormones into the bloodstream, which increases heart rate, tenses muscles and prepares the body for action. This is known as the stress response and is completely normal. As soon as the threat passes, the body returns to normal. With tinnitus, however, the sound is considered the threat, and as a result the body does not recover and a chronic stress condition can occur. This is known as the vicious circle of tinnitus. The more that you think about the tinnitus, the more anxious you become, and the more anxious you become, the more intrusive the tinnitus.

The solution, for the majority of people with tinnitus is to work towards breaking this ‘vicious circle’ and significantly reducing the effect of the tinnitus. The process, known as habituation, naturally occurs in many people, but for many a structured individual plan is necessary to achieve this effect.

What can be done?

At Hearing Healthcare Practice our experienced audiologists can provide considerable help with the management of tinnitus. In the first instance a detailed Tinnitus Review is carried out and this gives our audiologists a clear understanding of how tinnitus affects you personally. It also provides the starting point in designing an individual Treatment Plan to help you manage your tinnitus.

Your audiologist will discuss with you the various treatment options available and will assist with setting goals and realistic time scales.

The main thing to remember is that, whilst there is no ‘cure’ for tinnitus as it is not a disease, there is certainly help available. We have the skills and expertise to provide you with all of the support that you may need to reduce the impact of tinnitus on your life and enable you to move forward happily.

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