Tinnitus affects up to 15% of the population.
Yet there is a persistent myth that nothing can be done to treat it.
Tinnitus is characterised by noises heard in the ear or head, and for a minority of sufferers is extremely bothersome. It can be caused by a medical condition, side effect of medication or more commonly by blockages or deficits in the hearing system. This could include something as simple as wax in your ears, infection in the ear or permanent hearing loss.
What is ‘normal tinnitus’? Just about everyone gets occasional ringing in their ears. It usually lasts a minute or two and occurs once or twice a month. Many people also experience ‘nightclub tinnitus’ -ringing after a night out in a loud environment. This is a warning sign that the environment was loud enough to cause damage to your hearing. This tinnitus should resolve within a day or two. If not, see your GP or get your hearing tested.
If you have Tinnitus what should you do?
- Tell your GP – he/she may be aware that medication or a medical condition is linked to Tinnitus
- Get your hearing tested by an Audiologist, ideally a full diagnostic test which explores all three parts of your ears
- Wear hearing aids if you have hearing loss. Around 80% of people with Tinnitus find wearing hearing aids helps decrease the level of the Tinnitus.
- Try out different ‘masking’ signals and see what works best for you. Either listen via headphones or through a speaker/radio. Try some of the free Tinnitus apps on your smartphone app store, especially the ones made by the hearing aid manufacturers (Oticon, ReSound and WIdex have good ones). You can try music, nature sounds and static-type noise and see what helps. Ideally set the level of the masking noise so your tinnitus is just noticeable. This helps re-train your brain to ignore the tinnitus.
- Try to think of your Tinnitus as a stress-monitor. Many people find their Tinnitus gets worse when they are stressed, tired or need a break. If you have a bad day with your Tinnitus – do something relaxing. Go for a walk, have a massage, take care of yourself and try to get some sleep.
- If your Tinnitus is really bothering you, keeping you from sleeping or interfering with your daily life, ask your GP for a referral for counselling or Bio-feedback (a technique that teaches you to re-frame how you think about your Tinnitus).
Lastly, if you have Tinnitus, don’t despair. There are things that can help and everyone is different. Decades of research are starting to find some really interesting information about Tinnitus mechanisms, causes and solutions.
Read also Teresa’s article Getting Your Hearing Aids Ready for Summer.
Contributed by Dr Teresa Burns, AuD, MA, BSc (Hons), Dip (Business), Audiologist and Director of Teresa Burns Hearing, located on Auckland’s North Shore. Teresa has been an Audiologist for over 20 years and is passionate about providing world class hearing services in a locally owned, friendly, independent clinic environment. She offers full diagnostic hearing evaluations, hearing aids and specialist Tinnitus consultations https://www.teresaburnshearing.co.nz/