10 February 2017
Tinnitus is extremely common, experienced by one in 10 people in this country. It is defined as hearing a noise when there is no actual external noise. The noise can be intermittent or continuous and occurs as:
- ringing in one ear, both ears or in the head
- pulsing or non-pulsing
- loud or quiet
- whistling, hissing, buzzing, ringing or musical.
Tinnitus is not usually cured with medical drugs or an operation however, there is a lot that can be done to help sufferers. Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease – which means that there are a variety of different things which can cause it and it is very often associated with a hearing loss but most of the time a specific cause is not found.
It should be investigated by a specialist if it is one sided or pulsing in nature and if it is associated with a one sided hearing loss, dizziness or headaches. Assessment will involve a full history, examination of the ears, nose, throat and neck, hearing tests and possibly an MRI scan. Once any treatable condition has been excluded, treatment will involve a full explanation of tinnitus in order to encourage an understanding of this condition. Most sufferers get so used to it that it is no longer troublesome in their daily life, this is known as habituation.
Hearing aids and tinnitus maskers (a device similar to a hearing aid providing alternative noise into the ear) can help daytime symptoms, while sound generators can help at night. Tinnitus is often worse in silence and a sound generator can provide a background noise at night, which makes the tinnitus less intrusive and helps the brain to habituate.
Tinnitus can sometimes cause great psychological upset in which case tinnitus counseling and psychological approaches such as mindfulness can help. Tinnitus is only ‘troublesome’ in one in 100 people and the majority of these people can be helped with the techniques described above. If you have tinnitus I would recommend you talk to your doctor as there is a great deal that can be done to help.
Mr Michael Pringle is a Consultant ENT Surgeon practising at Spire Portsmouth Hospital.
The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.