What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the medical term used to describe any noise that we hear that has no external source, i.e. it is in our ears or head. Tinnitus is often described as a ringing noise, but other people may say it is more of a buzzing, humming, waving or whistling sound. Tinnitus is remarkably common and can occur at any age. It can be experienced intermittently and with varying degrees of intensity, or in the worst case, tinnitus might be experienced all the time. It is estimated that 5% of adults have suffered from bothersome tinnitus at some point. In fact, tinnitus may be extremely severe almost to the point where listening to, and understanding speech, can become almost impossible.

Fortunately, usually tinnitus proves not to be too bothersome. You may recall noticing a distinct ringing in the ears that comes on suddenly and slowly goes away after a minute or two. You may have also had instances where persistent loud sounds at musical concerts have brought on the same ringing sensation. Temporary tinnitus can also result from a bad cold or the ears being blocked with wax.

What causes tinnitus?

Most tinnitus is caused by a problem with the cochlea hair cells and nerves attached to the inner ear, when the perception of what should normally be a quiet sound in the ear is exaggerated and becomes predominant. The person becomes increasingly aware of the sound and concentrates on it more and more. It is a bit of a vicious circle when your emotions become involved as you can get more distressed about it the more you think about it.

Tinnitus is often linked to hearing loss. For this reason it's more common in older people who have age-related hearing loss. But it can also result from a head or ear injury, ear infections, diseases or even derive from emotional stress.

Exposure to loud noise may also cause tinnitus so wearing hearing protection is vitally important when working in noisy environments or when listening to loud music. Consider wearing sound insulating in-ear monitors when listening to i-Pods or MP3 players to help prevent exposure to dangerous sound levels for prolonged periods of time.

Tinnitus can be caused by an extremely wide range of factors. Tinnitus is not an illness or a disease; it is called a 'non-specific symptom' as it can accompany almost any physical or mental change in your life. The actual life event which triggers the tinnitus may not even be hearing-related. Some other common tinnitus triggers are listed below:

  • General health: sinus congestion, cardio vascular problems, diabetes, thyroid conditions, migraines, fibromyalgia, vertigo, head trauma, whiplash
  • Mental health: change in stress levels e.g. retirement, redundancy, or bereavement, depression, anxiety
  • Discomfort: noisy clubs/concerts, minor head injury, ear syringing.
  • Medication: high-dose aspirin, certain chemotherapy and antiviral drugs, loop diuretics, chloroquine for malaria, and some antidepressants.

Tinnitus solutions

It’s true, there’s no cure for tinnitus, but there are plenty of ways to manage it. We can help you find products that let you manage the sounds from day to day. Or, if you’re still coming to terms with the condition, we can give you the support you might need. We’re with you all the way.

3 therapies to treat tinnitus

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

CBT aims to identify the learned behaviours and thoughts you have about your condition, and to teach you how to ‘install’ new ways of relating to tinnitus. Frustration, depression, fear and anxiety are as much a part of tinnitus as the auditory sensations themselves. These feelings are valid responses and CBT will teach you coping strategies that prevent these feelings becoming predominant or overbearing.

Sound Enrichment Therapy

Because tinnitus is most noticeable in quiet environments, you may have difficulty falling asleep when bombarded by the unremitting ringing. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of the condition, and can lead to fatigue and anxiety. Many people find it easier to deal with tinnitus when they have a low-level background noise to mask its symptoms, such as a radio left on by the bedside or a sound generator. Sound therapy is the simple practice of playing relaxing and repetitive audio, such as the sound of breaking waves or wind and rain. Other sound enrichment can come from the use of maskers worn on your ears like hearing devices. These also work by giving your ears and brain an external sound to concentrate on so that it can ignore the internal sounds of tinnitus.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy

This is the combination of sound enrichment therapy with a talking therapy like counselling or CBT. This is an effective way to tackle more bothersome tinnitus. It gives both a solution to concentrate on more interesting external sounds, and the counselling enables a greater understanding of the effects of the condition on your life, and your relationship to it.

Here’s how we can help

1. Firstly, we can explore factors that contribute to your tinnitus, such as stress, your general health and your medication.

2. Next, we can give you a free hearing assessment – that way we can find out if your tinnitus is caused by hearing loss or increased strain when you’re trying to listen. If it is, we can let you try a hearing device for free. Wearing hearing devices can help relieve the symptoms by amplifying external sounds so that your brain is not concentrating on the internal sounds of the tinnitus.

3. Whatever it is that’s triggering your tinnitus, our expert audiologists can help you get to the bottom of it. Other ways to help alleviate tinnitus include relaxation techniques and cognitive therapies. These help you cope with the emotional reaction to tinnitus and can improve the quality of your life.

You can book a tinnitus consultation online or call us on 0800 40 20 20.