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An Introduction to Tinnitus

Article contributed by the British Tinnitus Association

For some people, sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) is accompanied by a sudden ringing in the ears or head, known as tinnitus.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is when you hear sound in your head or ears, when there is nothing external making the noise. Tinnitus varies from person. You might hear ringing, buzzing, whooshing or humming but tinnitus can be any sound – even snatches of music. The sound might remain constant, or it might come and go. It might be in one ear, or both ears or feel like it fills your head.

Who Gets Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is very common – many people get tinnitus, even young children. One in three people get tinnitus at some point in their lives and one in eight adults in the UK are living with persistent tinnitus.

For most people, tinnitus isn’t particularly bothersome, but for some it can be really distressing and have a big impact on their quality of life.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is not a disease or illness, rather tinnitus is brain activity that has got out of normal balance.

A change in the ear, such as an ear infection, a cold, or wax blocking the ear might trigger the tinnitus, as can hearing loss due to age.

Loud noise over a long time, such as power tools, live music concerts, or noisy machinery, can also cause tinnitus.

Tinnitus can be triggered by a stressful life event. When your stress level improves, your tinnitus may also improve.

Tinnitus has been recognised as a symptom of long Covid.

What Should I Do?

We would always recommend you see your doctor if you are experiencing tinnitus, particularly if it is singled sided or it beats in time to your heart, or if you are finding it particularly distressing.

Your doctor may ask you to see an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist or a special tinnitus clinic in an Audiology department.

A hearing therapist or audiologist will talk to you about the things you can do and use to help.

Some people may be offered talking therapies and support from a psychologist.

The most important thing is to keep doing the things you enjoy. You may have to do things differently, such as having background music on when you are reading or trying to sleep, but most people can live their normal lives.

Most people find that their tinnitus gets much better over time.

Things That Can Help

Talking to someone who also has tinnitus can often be helpful. There are over a hundred local Tinnitus Support Groups, as well as online groups. You can find out more about these on the BTA website.

Image Description: Woman sitting on decking by water in meditation pose. Image by Shahariar Lenin from Pixabay

Relaxation is a key part of tinnitus management as it helps reduce stress levels and the body’s focus on tinnitus.

An easy way to relax is to find a quiet place and take a few slow, deep breaths. Maybe have some music on in the background. Really notice how your breaths enters your body, then leaves it. Keep breathing like this until you feel calm.

A lot of people find that background sound helps them, particularly in quiet environments. A radio, music, or natural sounds such as birdsong or a river are popular, and there are many sound effect and relaxation apps available on smart phones to try.

If you have a hearing loss, then using hearing aids generally helps reduce the intrusiveness of your tinnitus. Some hearing aids now offer backgrounds sounds as well.

We have a free tinnitus e-learning programme which covers all this – and more – at www.takeontinnitus.co.uk

Most people with tinnitus try a combination of strategies to help them manage their tinnitus.

More Information

The internet has lots of information, but some of the information about tinnitus is not correct or helpful. Some of it can be scary, and some of it can be trying to sell unproven treatments and supplements.

Information from the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) comes from experts, and you can rely on it to be right. You can find our website at www.tinnitus.org.uk or you can call the BTA helpline on 0800 018 0527.

© British Tinnitus Association

Acknowledgements:

Thank you to Nic Wray at the British Tinnitus Association for this contribution.