Put the kettle on and talk about tinnitus

03 February 2020

With 1 in 10 adults in the UK unable to enjoy the ‘sound of silence’ the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) is calling for action.

Tinnitus is the term for the sensation of hearing sounds when, in fact, all around is silent. It is often a ringing or buzzing in the ears but, according to the BTA, the actual cause is still unclear and treatment ‘successes’ are ‘varied’ to say the least.

Now Tea for Tinnitus week - which runs from February 3 to 9 - encourages people to ‘put the kettle on’ take a break and just listen.

A BTA spokesman explained: “The idea behind it is simple. Put the kettle on and hold a tea party for your friends, or work colleagues. Offer tea and cakes in return for a donation, and help us raise much needed funds for further research into this condition.

“It helps us raise funds but, more importantly, it also helps us raise awareness of a problem that affects so many people on a day-to-day basis.”

Consultant ENT Surgeon Mr David Howe, from Spire Parkway Hospital in Solihull, near Birmingham, answers some common questions about tinnitus and why it’s so important to listen to your ear health.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing a sound in the absence of any external sound. Commonly people can hear ringing, whooshing, humming or buzzing sounds. The sounds can be continuous or they can come and go. Tinnitus can feel like it’s in one or both ears.

Who gets tinnitus?

Tinnitus is very common and can affect all age groups. Those who have already had hearing problems are more likely to suffer from it, but even those without hearing problems can develop tinnitus.

Most people are able to carry on with everyday activities, but a small proportion of people find it affects them more severely.

What causes tinnitus?

We do not know exactly what causes tinnitus; it is generally thought that it results from some type of change, either physical or mental.

Sound travels into the ear and hearing nerves take the signals to the brain. The brain then interprets the nerve signals and makes sense of the sound. A lot of information is sent to the brain, so the brain has to filter out unnecessary background sounds like ticking clocks or traffic noise.

Any change to the ‘norm’, such as an ear infection or hearing loss affects the amount of information sent to the brain, the brain responds by trying to gather more information from the ear which may cause tinnitus. It is thought a similar reaction can occur with other changes such as increased stress levels or poor general wellbeing.

When should I take action?

Some people find that their tinnitus does settle down, even when no specific action is taken. However, if there is no improvement, it's affecting your everyday life or it’s causing you concern, your first point of call is your GP.

You may need to be referred to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon to rule out any other medical issues; they can also assess your hearing, providing you with further information and support if necessary.

What can I do to help myself?

Relaxation – it’s quite common for people to feel anxious when they first experience tinnitus so do things to help you unwind and feel calm

Sleep – Ensuring you get enough sleep will help your overall well being and improve your ability to relax

Sound - Light background sounds such as soft music or natural sounds may help if the noise is too much

Our hearing is one of our most important senses and you should seek appropriate medical advice from your GP or ENT specialist, the sooner you act on any hearing problems, the better the likelihood of your outcome, advises Mr Howe.

Q: How quickly could I have a consultation, and how much would it cost? 

A: It depends on the availability of the consultant you wanted to see, but we pride ourselves on getting you fast access to diagnosis and you can often get a consultation within 24/48 hours. Initial consultation fees vary by consultant, but around £200 is a reasonable guide.

Q: If I need surgery, how quickly could I have it?

A: We have no waiting lists at Spire Parkway, but again it depends on the availability of the consultant you wanted. As a guide, and subject to your pre-operation assessment, between one and two weeks. 

Q: I don’t have health insurance, can I self-pay? 

A: Yes, you can. Our self-pay team can talk you through this and explain the finance options that are available, should you wish to explore them. Call 0121 704 5530 or send us an enquiry.

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