Word on Health

Word On Tinnitus

 

Our thanks to David Stockdale from the British Tinnitus Association for his contribution to our on-air report, which you can hear again via our radio player below. Thanks also to Action On Hearing Loss for the use of some of the information featured on this page.

So what is tinnitus: Tinnitus is regarded as a symptom and not a disease. It is the sensation of a sound in the ear or head not produced by an external source. The sound can be of any pitch or type, continuous or intermittent. Tinnitus sounds can take a variety of forms such as buzzing, ringing, whistling, hissing or a range of other sounds.  For some it can even sound like music or singing.  Sometimes sufferers only notice these sounds when it is very quiet, such as at night.  Others find that the sound can be loud enough to intrude on everyday life. Recent research suggests the incidence of the ‘symptom’ is on the increase. It's a condition that 18% of the global population endure - it has no cure.  

What causes tinnitus? There are many different causes of tinnitus.  Tinnitus can be linked to exposure to loud noise, hearing loss, ear or head injuries, some diseases of the ear, ear infections or emotional stress. It can also be a side effect of medication or a combination of any of these things.

Can tinnitus be treated? Although there is currently no definitive cure for tinnitus, it is occasionally possible to treat the underlying condition that may be causing it. For example, if a sufferer has an ear infection, antibiotics may help clear this up, which may in turn also improve the tinnitus. However, if the tinnitus carries on there is no drug or operation that will get rid of it but there is help available and there are ways to manage it. White noise generators can help mask tinnitus and a hearing specialist may also suggest a hearing aid or behaviour therapy. Mental or environmental quietness makes tinnitus more obvious so it’s important to keep the mind occupied. It’s important to take time out to relax – as stress can impact on tinnitus, relaxation tapes and CD’s can help. Complementary therapies such as Hypnotherapy and Acupuncture may also provide relief.

The British Tinnitus Association offer a range of options that may prove helpful for people living with tinnitus, click here to visit their site. They tell us..."If you think you have tinnitus, go and see your GP. You may need to be referred to an Ear Nose and Throat Specialist or an Audio Vestibular Physician, who will take a full medical history and provide a thorough examination. Based on this, medical conditions related to the tinnitus can be confirmed or ruled out, and thereby provide a basis for more specific tinnitus management.

Do not worry about your tinnitus, and do not try to do things to get rid of it, as this only becomes tinnitus related activity, and could actually makes tinnitus worse. Based on the medical investigations as indicated above, and information about how tinnitus is generated, the emotions related to the tinnitus perception can be changed. As the attitude to the tinnitus changes, the brain reverts to it usual activity of filtering out ‘predictable’ signals from the different sensory systems (hearing, smell, touch, vision etc.), thereby filtering out the tinnitus signal from your conscious mind. This is how we learn to live without our tinnitus."

Top 10 tinnitus myths

  • Tinnitus is all in the mind. NO- Although many people think that tinnitus is a psychological condition this is not the case, tinnitus can be generated anywhere in the auditory system – in the ears, nerves of hearing or the auditory pathways in the brain.
  • Tinnitus is due to high blood pressure or a serious medical condition. NO - This is very rarely the case. Although tinnitus may occasionally be a pointer towards underlying medical conditions it can also be found with normal hearing.
  • Tinnitus only affects older people. NO - Tinnitus affects people of all ages, including children. 
  • Tinnitus is a form of hearing loss. NO-Tinnitus is not a form of hearing loss: in fact people with completely normal hearing may experience tinnitus. 
  • Tinnitus causes deafness. NO- although tinnitus does not cause hearing loss, the opposite is not true and hearing loss can give rise to tinnitus. 
  • Tinnitus worsens with time. NO - In the great majority of cases, tinnitus tends to improve rather than get worse over time.
  • There’s nothing that can be done to help. UNTRUE - There is no cure for tinnitus in the form of a drug therapy but plenty can be done to help people to manage it effectively. 
  • Tinnitus is only heard as ringing. NO - People with tinnitus have reported hearing a huge range of noises such as whistling, buzzing, humming, music and even revving engines.
  • Tinnitus is only experienced in the ears. NO- Although some people describe hearing tinnitus in their ears other people describe it as being inside the head or even around the outside of the head.
  • Tinnitus interferes with sleep. NO - people with tinnitus think that it wakes them up.  When people wake it is more likely that they are thirsty or need the bathroom rather than being woken by their tinnitus.  However, the first thing they hear on awakening is the tinnitus.

Music, your hearing and tinnitus   Loud music at clubs, gigs and festivals, and through personal music players, can cause damage to your hearing. This could mean permanent tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or premature hearing loss. 90% have experienced some ringing in their ears (temporary tinnitus) after listening to loud music, a warning sign that they may be damaging their hearing.

The risk of damage is determined by how loud the music is, how long you are exposed to it and individual susceptibility to noise. But don't worry, you can take steps now to protect your hearing for the future.

How loud is too loud?  Loudness of a sound is measured in decibels (dB). Experts agree that exposure to noise at or above 85 dB(A) can damage hearing. 

Some examples of average decibel levels of common noises:
• 20 dB (A) A quiet room at night
• 60 dB (A) Ordinary spoken conversation
• 70 dB (A) City street
• 80 dB (A) DANGER LEVEL
• 100 dB (A) Pneumatic drill
• 100 dB (A) Maximum volume on some mp3 players
• 110 dB (A) Night club
• 115 dB (A) Rock concert
• 120 dB (A) Aircraftt taking off

Without sound measuring equipment, it can be difficult to know how loud the sound really is. As a rule of thumb, if you have to raise your voice to speak to someone two metres away, the noise is loud enough to damage your hearing and you should take steps to protect yourself. If the sound ever hurts your ears, leave immediately.

How long can I listen to music for? It depends on how loud the music is. Decibels work as ratios so the louder the volume, the less time you can listen to it without damaging your hearing. For every 3dB(A) increase in volume, the amount of time is halved before hearing damage occurs.

If a nightclub has music playing at 100dB(A), it is only possible to listen to it for 10-15 minutes before the exposure becomes damaging.

Won't my ears get use to loud music? In short, no. Loud music affects everyone's hearing. Some people may be more susceptible to damage than others but it is only possible to know your susceptibility once you have damaged your hearing. So it is important to take steps to prevent any damage from occurring.

What might happen if I damage my hearing?  If you have been exposed to loud music, you may experience ringing in your ears. This is usually temporary tinnitus and tends to go after 24 hours at most.  However, continued exposure to loud music can lead to the tinnitus, to become permanent.  You may also experience premature hearing loss. While you may not notice this straight away, it could bring on hearing loss as a result of age much quicker

Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.