The word tinnitus comes from the latin ‘tinnire’ which means to ring or tinkle like a bell.
For many, that is exactly the continuous sound they can hear as tinnitus sufferers.
Tinnitus is a physical condition, experienced as the sensation of hearing ringing, buzzing, whistling or other noises in the ears or head when there is no actual external noise present. Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease, and is usually caused by a fault in the hearing system.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Almost everything that can go wrong with our ears can result in tinnitus as a symptom; from something as simple as wax against the eardrum, or as serious as a tumour on the hearing nerve. Otosclerosis or otospongiosis is an abnormal growth of the tiny stirrup bone in the middle ear which can result in tinnitus and hearing loss, as can Meniere's disease (a disorder of the inner ear which makes you feel as though you're spinning).
However, the most common cause of tinnitus is exposure to loud noise, either constantly over time, or even in one instance if the noise is excessively loud. This may be through your work (if you work with things such as machinery, chain saws, vehicles) or through lifestyle and leisure choices (like rock concerts, headphones or sports such as shooting).
Everyone’s symptoms are different, with some experiencing a constant ringing in their ears whilst others may have sporadic bouts with periods where their hearing is perfectly normal.
According to the Royal National Institute for Deafness, 10% of people in Britain experience some level of tinnitus, rising to 25-30% of people over the age of 70. Research to find a cure for tinnitus is ongoing, however the condition can be manageable with lifestyle changes and the help of a hearing professional.
Tips for tinnitus sufferers
Inform yourself: Research the condition and visit your doctor or a hearing professional for diagnosis.
Be aware of the triggers: Often, identifying how you first became aware of tinnitus can help you understand it better which makes it less threatening.
Have your hearing checked by a hearing specialist (audiologist): If there is evidence of hearing loss you may benefit from a hearing aid.
Avoid complete quiet: Keeping your ears busy with some low-level background noise eg. TV or radio, can help your brain focus on those sounds rather than the ringing of the tinnitus.
Try to stay calm and relaxed: The hearing system relaxes along with the rest of the body.
Find ways to improve your ability to get to sleep (soft music, nature sounds): Often tinnitus affects people when they are trying to sleep
Avoid loud noises and wear something to protect your ears: If you are going to be around machinery, loud music or explosions be sure to safeguard your hearing with noise reducing headphones or alternatives.
Use volume-limiting headphones: Protect yourself when listening to personal music devices.
If you are worried about your hearing seek advice from an audiologist
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