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One in ten people have tinnitus according to the BTA (British Tinnitus Association), so it’s important to develop a further a more clear understanding of what tinnitus is and how to deal with it.
What is Tinnitus?
There is no certain definition as to what tinnitus is, the NHS define it simply as ‘ringing in the ears’, while Bupa go into a little bit more detail and define it as ‘the perception of sound in your ears or head that isn’t caused by an outside source’ – so when you can hear a noise without there being anything around you causing the sound.
For example: if you’ve ever been to a concert or listened to music really loudly and heard a high pitched ringing in your ears the next day, that’s tinnitus.
Types of Tinnitus
Although high pitch ringing is the most common sound heard when suffering from tinnitus, other low pitch sounds can also be heard, such as:
- Other sounds too
Pulsatile tinnitus is when the noise that you are hearing changes in volume to the rhythm of your pulse. As the blood is pumped around your body and to your ears, the severity level of the tinnitus changes and therefore gives the impression that the volume is changing.
Sometimes tinnitus can be subtle and will affect different people at different times. Hyperacusis is when a sufferer hears sounds louder than they actually are. For example, they could perceived that somebody is shouting or speaking really loudly, when in actual fact they are speaking at normal volume.
This is when you can hear music without music being played. This type of tinnitus is more common among long-term sufferers or those who suffer with hearing loss. It is believed that stress can be the cause of musical hallucinations and can also be a symptom of hyperacusis.
What Causes Tinnitus?
There are multiple reasons why tinnitus can occur:
- Hearing loss due to old age
- Buildup of earwax
- Eardrum perforation
- Ear infection
- Exposure to loud noises e.g. loud music, explosions etc.
Other causes of tinnitus:
- Impact to the head
- Neck injury
- High blood pressure
- Bone formation within the ear
How to Avoid Tinnitus
Sometimes tinnitus is unavoidable, such as when it is caused by again or ear infection, but you can take actions to help reduce your chances of getting tinnitus.
- Avoid using cotton buds to clean your ears. Using cotton buds or swabs can often push wax down the ear and press against the eardrum, putting pressure on it.
- Wearing ear plugs or ear defenders when exposed to loud noises. If you work in a noisy environment ear protection should be provided by your employer.
- Avoid loud noises at all. Sometimes it might be necessary to stay at home and rest your ears for a few days. If you don’t have to be exposed to loud situations then stay away from them for a while.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. As high blood pressure can cause tinnitus, maintaining a healthy diet and regularly doing cardiovascular exercise can help reduce the chances of getting tinnitus.
How to Treat Tinnitus
- Find the cause: get your doctor to run tests such as an X-ray, audiogram or evoked response audiometry. Also give your doctor a detailed list of all foods or situations that trigger or worsen your tinnitus.
- Take medication: there are medications that can help severe tinnitus although the success and side effects vary from person to person. You should always consult with your doctor when taking medications.
- Remove earwax: blocking the ear canal can lead to hearing loss, irritation and tinnitus. If this is causing your tinnitus, the symptoms can be greatly eased once your ears have been cleared.
- Purchase a hearing aid, as this can help to hide your tinnitus by bringing back your ability to hear ambient background noises.
- Avoid stimulants such as nicotine and alcohol, which can worsen the symptoms of tinnitus that are associated with blood flow.