WHAT IS TINNITUS

Human body is a extremely noisy place inside. For example, research on pregnant women tells us that unborn babies are in an environment as noisy as some of the heavy industries. When the researchers put a hydrophone (a special mic that works in water) near the foetus, they found the noise levels exceeding 85dBA. This is the level you will be talking at if you were to shout. Our ears, which of course, are very close to our brains, can sometime start hearing the noises that are generated by the blood flowing in the vessels and electricity being carried to the brain via millions of our nerves. Any noise that one starts hearing from inside the body (rather than from an outside source of sound), is known as tinnitus. Sometime a heart beat can be heard continuously in the ears too, called a pulsatile tinnitus). In fact, pulsatile tinnitus requires immediate medical attention as they could be a sign of tumour behind the ear drum.

Different people hear different sort of tinnitus noises. Ringing or buzzing are most common noises that one hears but the noises could be humming, grinding, hissing or whistling etc. Some people will hear a combination of noises too. The main point to attend here is that if you hear any noise in your ear without an external source- it  could be tinnitus. The noises can be intermittently present or very persistent. In most people, intermittent noises are not very intrusive but any form of spontaneous noises that worries you or alters your routine, requires attention from a qualified audiologist.

IS IT COMMON

In the UK, more persistent tinnitus is estimated to affect around six million people (10% of the population) to some degree, with about 600,000 (1%) experiencing it to a severity that affects their quality of life.

IS IT SERIOUS

There are very many reasons why one could have tinnitus but the most common things that seem to trigger it are loud noise exposure, stress, sleep deprivation, surgery/trauma, ear infections and hearing loss. Tinnitus can be a sign of a serious underlying condition although it is very rare. Therefore, it is important that any type of tinnitus is appropriately assessed by a qualified professional.

HOW IS IT MANAGED

In terms of management, once a hearing loss and/or medical problem is ruled out- there are mainly three types of tinnitus management options available:

  1. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  2. Electrophysiologic technique
  3. Sound therapy

CBT is performed in a series of sessions by a qualified therapist. The aim of the therapy is to change distress causing behaviour when someone is suffering from tinnitus. There is a body of research evidence behind the efficacy of CBT in tinnitus. More recently, CBT is used with Mindfulness meditation and again, various researches have proved its benefit in tinnitus sufferers.

Electrophysiological techniques are a developing treatment option of tinnitus for some people where a small electric stimulation behind the ear is given via special electric sensors. The research in this area is emerging and claims that at least some people are getting helped by it.

Sound therapy involves a combination of techniques that can help returning the normal routine. Therapy has to be tailor-made to individual’s needs and preferences. There are several programmable devices that can be prescribed as a part of this therapy. Special gadgets are employed mainly to raise the sound level around so that tinnitus is not perceived as loud as it can. Customised devices are also available to be placed inside the ear, that can be controlled by remote control to alter the volume etc.

There is a lot of help available for you to manage your tinnitus. Book your appointment today for a comprehensive tinnitus assessment, advice and consultation on your situation. Click here to book your appointment

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NB: There is a lot of research being done in the management of tinnitus throughout the world, particularly for a pharmacological and electrophysiological treatment. So, watch this space for updates. We will keep you updated with any new significant development in this area.