What is tinnitus?
If you have ringing, whistling, whooshing or buzzing sound in your ears, then you are likely to be experiencing tinnitus. Tinnitus is the perception of noises in the head and/or ear which have no external source. Symptoms can vary in intensity and type. Some people can live with the condition comfortably. For others, it can be unbearable, affecting concentration and sleep and ultimately, general wellbeing.
Who gets tinnitus?
Tinnitus is very common and is reported in all age groups, even young children. It is not a disease or an illness. About 30% of people will experience tinnitus at some point in their lives but approximately 1 in 8 will experience persistent tinnitus. Tinnitus is more common in people with hearing loss but it can also be found in people with normal hearing.
What causes tinnitus?
The exact cause of tinnitus is still not completely understood. It is not a disease or illness, but a symptom generated within the auditory system and the brain. It is generally agreed that tinnitus results from some type of change, either mental or physical and is not always related to hearing. People often say that they are aware of noises in the ears when they have a cold, an ear infection or wax blocking the ear. Sometimes, tinnitus occurs during a stressful life event. Loud noises over a prolonged time such as power tools, live music or noisy machinery can also affect tinnitus.
How to treat tinnitus
It is quite common to feel worried and afraid when you first experience tinnitus. However, there are a lot of treatments to help reduce its presence.
– Visit your GP
If your tinnitus is persistent and troublesome you should initially speak to the GP. Your doctor will do physical check to ensure there is not something visible to cause your tinnitus. They may refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist and/or recommend a hearing evaluation.
– Wear hearing aids
Hearing aids are recommended for tinnitus that is associated with hearing loss. As hearing aids restore what you can’t hear, they help to mask unwanted sounds and help you to hear more of your environmental sounds.
All the leading hearing device manufacturers have models integrated with tinnitus sound therapy. Soothing sounds or background noise delivered to your ears help to distract your thoughts away from your tinnitus and blend it into the background.
– Relaxation and mindfulness
Relaxation strategies and practicing mindfulness can help to reduce stress and anxiety related to tinnitus. It is not always easy to relax when you have tinnitus, but it is one of the most useful things you can do. Find somewhere peaceful to sit. Close your eyes and consciously slow your breathing down with deep breathes in through your nose and out through your mouth. When you fully relax, you won’t notice the tinnitus as much.
Mindfulness meditation is a technique that is used frequently for pain management and more recently, tinnitus. Once we stop focusing on the unpleasant sensation and accept it, we can alter our awareness to include more sensations. We start to notice that the unpleasant sensations become less dominant once our attention moves away from them and focuses on a different part of the body.
– Talk to someone
People around you may not understand what tinnitus is and how it might affect you, so they might not be able to give you the type of support you need. It can be really helpful to talk to someone who has experience of tinnitus such as a hearing healthcare provider or a GP.