Tinnitus is a term used for a ringing, hissing, buzzing, clicking, or roaring sound in one or both ears, and can be caused by various factors, including ageing and prolonged exposure to loud noises.
Tinnitus is quite common: in fact, about 30% of people in the UK will experience tinnitus at some point, while 13% will experience persistent tinnitus.(1)
Dealing with tinnitus doesn’t have to be difficult, so here, we’ll take you through some of the types and causes of tinnitus, the different options available to help you manage your tinnitus, and how hearing aids might help.
Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing a sound in the absence of any external sound. It can result in a ringing, hissing, buzzing, clicking or roaring sound in one or both ears. The sound might feel like it’s in the middle of the head or might even be difficult to pinpoint. If you do have tinnitus, the sounds can be constant or irregular, throbbing or steady, and have volumes ranging from a soft hum to a loud noise.
Types of tinnitus
The types of sounds that tinnitus generates can vary. Subjective tinnitus, for example, are sounds that only the person can hear, while objective tinnitus — which is quite rare — are noises that both the person and a doctor can detect. The most common type of sound associated with subjective tinnitus is a constant, steady, high-pitched ringing. There are also some tinnitus-like symptoms that are actually signs of other problems, like objective, pulsating noise, which is more likely to be a blood vessel disorder.
Tinnitus can have a number of effects on quality of life, including:
Sleep is essential for restoring energy, but people who have tinnitus may well have difficulty sleeping, due to the ringing or humming sound.
Decrease in concentration
If you continuously hear tinnitus, it can be tough to focus. As a result, tinnitus can disturb work performance and make activities such as reading and studying more difficult. If you find that tinnitus is affecting your abilities to do everyday activities, like reading or watching TV, then it’s best to seek advice from an audiologist, who can advise you on what steps to take.
There are a few ways that tinnitus can be treated, and which option you should go for will depend on a few factors. Here are some of the options:
Keeping the volume down
Staying aware of the sound around you and acting accordingly can be a useful way of managing tinnitus. For instance, using earplugs in situations where you’re exposed to loud sounds can help reduce the impact of them, and making sure that the music in your headphones isn’t too loud can also help.
Hearing aids are great options for those with tinnitus who have hearing loss at the same time. Not only do hearing aids amplify the sounds to help with hearing loss, but the amplified sounds also help distract the person from tinnitus, making tinnitus less noticeable. Most hearing aids also now have sound programs that can distract the brain from tinnitus in those who suffer from more severe forms of tinnitus.
By making tinnitus less noticeable, hearing aids can improve sleep quality and concentration, and can selectively amplify voices during a conversation, and sounds of TV and radio, which can ultimately help to improve overall well-being and make everyday tasks easier.
Treat the underlying cause
Certain types of tinnitus can be reversed by treating the underlying cause. If the reason for tinnitus is an ototoxic (toxic to the ear) drug, it’s important to seek advice from your GP as to whether this is having an impact. If the cause is earwax, the earwax can be removed by a healthcare professional. If your tinnitus occurs because of Ménière’s disease, then your doctor will prescribe some medication to treat it.
There is also a range of behavioural therapies that may improve the life-quality of those suffering from chronic tinnitus.
Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) changes the way your subconscious mind processes tinnitus, by teaching the brain to ignore tinnitus sounds unless you purposely focus on it. Experts at a tinnitus centre carry out the TRT, and it often requires a long-term commitment.
Other behavioural therapies include biofeedback and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Biofeedback and CBT change the way you think about and react to tinnitus by not viewing it as an annoying sound.
If you do have tinnitus or hearing loss and want to learn more about what you can do to help your symptoms, it’s important to seek out advice from an audiologist. At Specsavers, we provide free hearing tests to help you understand more about your hearing, and what steps to take if you do have tinnitus or hearing loss. Our expert team can advise you on the best hearing aid options for you, and help you understand the condition further.
If you’re interested in learning more about hearing loss and how we can help, you can find more content like this in our dedicated hearing loss resource.