Around 10% of the UK population suffer from tinnitus. It can occur at any age but is more common in older people. It can sound like virtually anything but is most commonly a whistling, ringing or buzzing. Being a tinnitus sufferer myself, I can empathise with the millions of people who experience this phenomenon. There are many possible causes and to date, nobody really understands its true nature. Being in a noisy place can start it off and it can be temporary or permanent.
Here are the top tips:
1) Seek help. This is perhaps the most important tip. There are many things that can be done to reduce the effects of tinnitus. It is a question of identifying what works best for you. Everybody is different and getting to the root cause can be enlightening. Some people experience tinnitus or worsening tinnitus if they are stressed. Reduce the stress and you may well reduce the tinnitus. Some people experience tinnitus when their ears become blocked with wax. In this instance it is usually not the wax itself generating the sound but the fact that natural sounds are being heard quieter (thus making the tinnitus noticeable or more noticeable). A visit to your GP can be useful but some GPs are not as experienced in offering advice so a tinnitus specialist may be required.
2) How’s your hearing? Tinnitus is most common amongst people with a hearing loss. If you need hearing aids then there’s a strong likelihood that hearing aids will help. By introducing sound to the ears, the person can be distracted from the tinnitus. Many hearing aid manufacturers have developed hearing aids with specific features to benefit people with tinnitus such as the Resound Verso TS, Widex Dream and Phonak Q products to name but a few. These work in slightly different ways so you may need to experiment. Some generate soothing sounds when required and others produce sounds that are barely detectable but can actually reduce the sensation of tinnitus. Seeking the advice of a hearing aid audiologist should be your first port of call. If you have tinnitus then a hearing test is essential – even if you think your hearing is normal.
3) What does it sound like? As explained, tinnitus can sound like almost anything at all. Most tinnitus is in both ears (sides) and is generally heard as if the sound is in the centre of your head. If your tinnitus is in one ear (side) or if it pulses then you should waste no time in seeking advice. Hearing aid audiologist or your GP.
4) Enrich your environment. Many people (like me) forget they have tinnitus for most of the day and it is most likely to be noticeable when in a quiet situation - like at night. There are a range of different devices that can generate soothing sounds like waves on a shore which can help distract you from the tinnitus.
5) Don’t give up. What works for one person does not necessarily work for another but you won’t know until you try. Try different things but don’t become obsessed. Obsession can cause stress and stress can exacerbate the tinnitus.
On a personal note, I would like to share with you a couple of experiences I have had personally. As mentioned, everyone is different so these are simply my personal comments.
I am 51 years old and have been playing the drums for many years. I must say, I foolishly played without ear protection in my youth (but not anymore). I started experiencing a high pitched whistling sound about 10 years ago. It is impossible to site the drumming as the cause but I guess it probably is. Over the last decade I believe the sound has grown gradually louder. I am aware of the tinnitus when I think about it but most of the time I don’t. I don’t have a hearing loss. I have noticed however that if I have just one glass of red wine then my tinnitus is noticeably louder the following day. I still occasionally partake of a glass but I know what I can expect so it doesn’t bother me.
Several years ago I was at a conference and per chance I happened to be sat next to a lady called Jacqueline Sheldrake. She is well known within the audiology business in the UK for her experience dealing with tinnitus sufferers. During the meal I seized the opportunity to get some expert advice on dealing with my own tinnitus. I explained to her about my tinnitus and she said to me “your tinnitus will only be a problem if you choose to let it be a problem”. These simple, choice words were enough for me to be inspired to “choose” to not make it a problem for me. I am indebted to Jaqueline for her inspiration and indeed tinnitus is not a problem to me since then. The way I look at it, if I pause for a moment, I can hear myself breathing. This rhythmical noise has been there all of my life. It doesn’t bother me because I know it is part of being human and I am only aware of it if I stop to think.
My friend has a tropical fish tank and the water pump/heater makes a constant humming noise. I’m not sure if it’s faulty but it certainly makes one heck of a noise. I once asked him how he managed to put up with the constant noise. “What noise?” came the reply from him and other members of his family who were present. The world is full of noise and for people like me, tinnitus is simply one of those noises.
Rehabilitation through technology.
About a year ago, I visited a client in her home who was interested in purchasing some hearing aids. Upon discussing her case history I uncovered that she suffered from tinnitus. She commented that her tinnitus got worse when she got stressed. I asked her under what circumstances she felt most stressed. “When I try to follow a conversation in a noisy place”, was the reply. I subsequently fitted this lady with a pair of the fantastic Audeo Q 90s. The Audeo Q90s come with a feature that is specifically for tinnitus sufferers but I wanted to put it to the test. I fitted the hearing aids but didn’t activate that particular feature as I wanted to see how well it worked. After about 2 weeks I saw her again and she reported that her tinnitus and indeed stress had considerably reduced. She no longer needed to strain to follow a conversation in a noisy place. Now was it the reduction of stress that in turn reduced the tinnitus perception? Perhaps the amplification of certain sounds distracted her from her tinnitus which then reduced the stress? Who knows. I then activated the tinnitus feature without explaining what I had done. I saw her again 2 weeks later and she reported that her tinnitus had completely gone. I must stress that this is obviously the ideal result and is indeed very satisfying for me as well as the client.
At some stage in my life I may well require hearing aids. I would most certainly try ones with this type of feature which may or may not work for me but I won’t know unless I try them. It works by generating a sound which is just below the hearing level and therefore cannot be heard. The theory is that it “retrains” the auditory system into reducing the tinnitus. Clever stuff. This feature is available in lots of different hearing aids and indeed Phonak incorporate it into lower cost hearing instruments.
In summary, if you have tinnitus then you need a hearing test. There are lots of possible solutions so the sooner you seek advice the sooner something can be done.