Do you suffer from tinnitus?

What is tinnitus?

You may be suffering from tinnitus if you start to hear noises in your ears that other people can’t hear and which don’t appear to come from an outside source. It can be distressing and worrying, but you’re not alone. Tinnitus is surprisingly common.

Qualified hearing aid audiologist Colin Campbell RHAD MSHAA explains more in this short video:

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What does it sound like?

The name comes from the Latin word ‘tinnire’ which means ‘to ring’. It’s usually described as a ringing, whistling, hissing, buzzing or roaring sound. Sometimes it beats in time with a person’s pulse. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus. You might only notice these sounds when it’s very quiet, such as at night. Or they could be so loud they intrude on your everyday life.

Listen to these representations of tinnitus sounds (supplied by the British Tinnitus Association). Note: Please make sure your volume is set at a comfortable listening level.

What are the causes of tinnitus?

There are a variety of possible causes, including a build-up of earwax or an infection. Exposure to loud sounds, like those listed below, can also trigger the condition:

Rock concerts (120 decibels), Ambulance siren (120 db), Nightclubs (110 db), Loud machinery (115-120 db), Personal music player/headphones (112 db), Hand drill (98 db), Heavy traffic (85 db), Lawn mower (85 db).

What can be done about it?

There's no single treatment that works in the same way for everyone. Eliminating the cause could be the first step to tackling the problem, so it’s important to find out whether it happens in certain places or at particular times.

Many people who suffer from tinnitus also have hearing difficulties. In this instance, hearing aids can provide a great deal of benefit as amplified sounds not only help you hear better but also keep the brain 'busy' so the tinnitus becomes less prominent. For people without hearing loss, background noise such as music, the television or from special sound generator devices, can provide 'exterior sounds' which perform a similar task.

Who should you contact?

If the symptoms persist or you are concerned about your tinnitus, you should contact your GP who may refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. They will be able to suggest ways of dealing with the problem. For example, if a build-up of earwax is responsible, eardrops or ear irrigation (using a pressurised flow of water to remove the earwax) may be recommended.

If a specific cause can't be established, the focus will be on helping you manage the condition on a daily basis.