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Helpful tips to tackle the trauma of tinnitus

18 February 2018

If you are suffering with tinnitus, then it helps to speak to someone who really knows what you are going through. Ears, nose and throat surgeon, Mr Mike O’Connell from The Montefiore Hospital in Hove, shares his own personal experience, and offers advice.

“It sounds almost ironic that for an ENT specialist I should suffer with tinnitus, but that is exactly what happened to me after a skiing accident,” he said.

“I lost my hearing for a while after the fall, but when it came back, I was left with tinnitus in my right ear, a horrible ringing sound that felt like I had a woodpecker in my head. The noise was so loud that I couldn’t sleep and had to take time off work because I felt exhausted.

“I knew that with self-management techniques, which included getting lots of relaxation and eating well, I could get through this. Tinnitus is a condition that is never cured, but with careful management, the brain can be tricked into blocking the noise out.

“My skiing accident was 16 years ago and although I would say I don’t suffer from tinnitus, very occasionally I can hear a faint ringing in my right ear. But I am always confident it will disappear.

“Treating tinnitus is very much about ‘mind over matter’. Having suffered with it, I have a huge amount of sympathy, and empathy, for patients, and the impact this can have on their quality of life.”

Around one-fifth of the population will suffer with tinnitus at some point in their life. For 85%, it will disappear with self-management, and the rest will need medical intervention.

Self-help tips to cope with tinnitus:

  • Look after yourself with a good diet.
  • Make time for relaxation activities and exercise.
  • Use noise to blot out the sound of tinnitus while you are trying to sleep – have a radio on low between stations, to provide `white noise’ that will stop you focussing on the tinnitus.
  • Check your medication – certain drugs, such as aspirin, can trigger tinnitus.
  • If you think wax is the cause, have your ears cleaned by a medical professional. Don’t be tempted to push earbuds into your ears.
  • Use ear protectors to protect your ears from loud noises, such mowing the lawn, which can exacerbate tinnitus.
  • See the useful tips on the British Tinnitus Association website.

Medical help:

  • Reassurance from an ENT consultant that the noise is nothing sinister is enough to stop a patient from worrying - and in turn the tinnitus naturally becomes less intrusive.
  • Tumours are rare – and even benign acoustic neuroma (which develop along the auditory nerve) affect less than 800 people a year.
  • Your consultant may recommend a tinnitus masker, a tiny device which emits low levels of a sound that you choose, such as the sound of waves breaking on a beach. Wear the device for a few hours a day to trick the brain into not hearing the tinnitus.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy can help change your response to the tinnitus which in turn means it will become less irritating.
  • Have your hearing checked – straining to hear can make tinnitus worse.

Advice from Mr Mike O’Connell, ENT surgeon who holds clinics at The Montefiore on Thursday evenings and Friday mornings.

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