As it is Tinnitus Awareness Week this week (2nd-6th February) I am going to focus this post on tinnitus and the effects of living with it.
Tinnitus is a medical term to describe noises in the ear, whether one or both ears or even in the head. It often takes the form of ringing, buzzing or whistling but can vary with each person. The only link is that the noises have no external source.
Most people experience tinnitus but not to levels that they are troubled by, however, everyone responds to tinnitus in different ways. It is quite common to only experience tinnitus for a short while, especially after you have been exposed to loud noises such as music.
Approximately 30% of people will experience some form of tinnitus whereas 10% will suffer from persistent tinnitus. It is more common in those who have hearing loss or are prone to ear infections.
I suffered quite badly with tinnitus when I lost the hearing in my right ear; it had no one particular sound, instead I heard noises that sounded like cats screaming, church bells and motorbikes which was not only frustrating but it was also preventing me from hearing any natural sounds as my attention was focused on the tinnitus.
There is no real known cause of tinnitus, some attribute it to stress, however it is generally acknowledged that tinnitus results from some kind of change either mental or physical but not necessarily related to hearing.
In my case, consultants believe my brain was trying to compensate for the lack of sounds that I could hear naturally. It is highly frustrating for the person suffering from this as it is often constant from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. It can also keep people awake and lead to sleep deprivation which can aggravate the tinnitus further. Luckily I can sleep through anything!!
The most common ’causes’ of tinnitus include;
– Exposure to loud sounds
– Hearing Loss
– Ear or head injuries
– Some diseases of the ear
– Ear infections
– Emotional stress
– Side effect of medication.
If the tinnitus is aggravated by stress it can cause a vicious circle as the more the tinnitus is present, the more anxious the individual is likely to feel. Many people learn in time to manage their stress levels by using relaxation techniques, counselling or complementary therapies such as acupuncture or herbal medicine.
There is no one treatment for tinnitus that works for everyone. However, if it is caused by an underlying condition such as an ear infection then medication will be able to clear the infection and possibly improve the tinnitus.
If you are experiencing tinnitus and it is affecting you in your everyday life – i.e. you are becoming more stressed and unable to deal with the constant noise – you should consult your GP and obtain a referral to an ENT (Ear Nose Throat) specialist who will be able to advise you best.
A specialist will be able to rule out any underlying conditions and possibly be able to refer you to a tinnitus clinic if there are any in your local area. Tinnitus clinics will be able to help you find a way of dealing with it so that it doesn’t affect your everyday life – they might suggest counselling, hearing aids if there has been a change in your hearing, relaxation or sound therapy.
It is important to note that tinnitus will improve. Although at first you may be worried or stressed by the new noises, you will adapt. Slowly, over time, your brain will learn to block out these noises that are unnecessary.
I have found that since receiving my implant, my tinnitus has dramatically reduced to the point where I barely notice it. Of course, this is because my tinnitus was a result of the dramatic hearing loss that suddenly occurred rather than by some other underlying cause. Some noises are still there, and are more prominent in quiet environments, but my brain is adapting more to the sounds I hear through my implant rather than the pointless noises I used to hear.
There is constant ongoing research into tinnitus and how it is generated, however, protecting your hearing can reduce the likelihood of experiencing tinnitus at some point in your life. Frequent and prolonged exposure to loud noises can dramatically increase the risk of tinnitus or make it worse so please do take measures to ensure your hearing is well protected.
If you would like further information on tinnitus you can find some on the following websites;
Hearing Link – http://www.hearinglink.org/tinnitus-awareness-week
Action on Hearing
Loss – http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/your-hearing/tinnitus/tinnitus-awareness-week.aspx