This week is Tinnitus Awareness Week 2023 (6-12th February). Knowing how many patients come through our practice who battle with it on a daily basis, I thought it would be a good idea to take a closer look at the condition that affects 1 in 7 of us here in the UK…
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a condition where noises are heard when there is no external source, usually in the ears or in the head. Many will have experienced some buzzing or ringing in the ears at times, especially after exposure to loud noise.
What noises do people hear?
The way people perceive tinnitus varies enormously – from just one sound to a mixture of whistling, ringing, buzzing and rushing sounds. The condition is common among deaf and hard of hearing people but it also happens to a small number of hearing people.
What are the noises?
The noises that are heard are not fully understood but are generally considered background noise in the hearing system. For people with tinnitus, somewhere along the line from the cochlea to the auditory cortex, electrical signals are being generated more regularly, producing the sensation of sound.
The hearing pathway has a complex filtering system that allows you to ‘tune in’ to sounds that are important to you – like an early warning system – and ‘tune out’ sounds that are not important. This system is always working and stops you from being bombarded with sounds.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease and there can be many different causes. It can be linked to exposure to loud noise, hearing loss, ear or head injuries, some diseases of the ear and some ear infections, or it can be a side effect of some medication. It may be a combination of all or some of these or a person may never have any of these conditions.
Is there a connection between tinnitus and hearing loss?
Hearing loss is a common factor underlying tinnitus, although some people with normal hearing may also experience tinnitus. Loss of hearing is often an unnoticeable and gradual process and many people are surprised when they are told that they have a hearing loss. It is quite common for people to assume incorrectly that it is their tinnitus rather than their hearing loss that is causing hearing difficulties.
Can hearing aids help with tinnitus?
For many people, tinnitus may be related to reduced access to sound, for example hearing loss. The aim of fitting hearing aids is to correct any such hearing loss with the possibility that this may help reduce the tinnitus. Hearing aids should be worn throughout your waking hours to gain maximum benefit.
Besides amplifying the sounds around us, many modern hearing aids also include a tinnitus therapy feature.
In very quiet hearing environments, regular hearing aids don’t have enough external sounds to amplify to distract you from your tinnitus. This is when the tinnitus feature comes into play. By emitting a customised therapy signal like waves rolling into a beach, it distracts you from focusing on the ringing in your ears.
Book an appointment with our team, who will be able to discuss the various options to suit your requirements.
Photo credit: Signia Hearing UK