The 8 things you should know about tinnitus

Nikki Roxburgh - 17 January 2015

One: Tinnitus is often referred to as Ringing in the ears.

Tinnitus is a sound heard by one or both ears that is described by different people in various ways. To some people it is a high pitched ringing, whining, hissing sound or a low roaring noise.

Tinnitus can be very mild, noticeable only in quiet situations or it can become so loud that the individual hearings nothing else. It can be persistent, intermittent or throbbing depending on the cause.

Two: Most tinnitus is mild.

In fact it is relatively rare for it to develop into a chronic problem of life-altering severity.

Three: At any point about 10% of the population experiences tinnitus.

Millions of people around the world suffer from tinnitus. Probably 18% of Australians have tinnitus at some time of their lives and approximately 50 million Americans have tinnitus in some form.

Four: There are lots of causes.

While tinnitus does not cause hearing disorders, it may accompany decreased hearing and other ear symptoms such as pressure, unsteadiness or dizziness and can often occur alone. Some causes are:

  • Wax build up or obstructions;
  • Perforation of the ear drum or fluid build up;
  • Abnormal bone growth in the middle ear (otosclerosis);
  • Ear infections (otitis media);
  • Exposure to sudden loud noise or repeated exposure to noise without protection;
  • Trauma to the head or neck (concussion or whiplash);
  • Some medications; and
  • High or low pressure or anemia.

Five: See an Audiologist if you think you have tinnitus.

An audiologist is trained to diagnose, treat and counsel a patient to improve symptoms.This is what you can expect to happen when you see an audiologist to assess your tinnitus.

  • A case history is taken to establish medical causes, such as, auditory conditions (otitis media, otosclerosis, acoustic neuroma), vascular system disorders, jaw disorders, head and neck injuries, depression and anxiety.
  • Tinnitus questionnaires are completed which help the audiologist to determine a patients emotional well-being and how severely the tinnitus is impacting their life
  • A diagnostic hearing assessment. Around 90% of people with tinnitus have a hearing loss.
  • Tinnitus test protocols are completed and used to determine the pitch and loudness of the tinnitus and how the tinnitus interacts with an external sound.
  • A discussion of the results with the patients is completed, including, questionnaires, tests and an explanation of the likely mechanisms causing the tinnitus.
  • Tinnitus counselling is provided, such as, foods & drinks to avoid, stress management techniques and coping mechanisms.
  • Discussion of treatment options is provided if beneficial to the patient, for example, noise generators, tinnitus maskers, amplification of sound, sound pillows, referrals to other specialists etc.

Six: Tinnitus is more common in people with hearing loss.

Around 90% of people with tinnitus have a hearing loss. The severity of tinnitus doesn't correlate with the degree of hearing loss. For those with a hearing loss, Hearing aids are helpful. Straining to listen can cause tinnitus to emerge or worsen. Correcting hearing loss reduces the level of tinnitus in many cases. A free hearing aid trial is recommended for tinnitus sufferers with hearing loss.

Seven: There is help available.

Tinnitus in most patients is of an acute phase of distress when the problem begins and is generally followed by improvement over time. It is all too common that patients are told that nothing can be done about tinnitus. Negative statements often tend to exacerbate tinnitus and accompanying distress.

The patients needs to have a balanced diet, reduce salt, try to relax, avoid excesses of caffeine & alcohol. While there is currently no cure, an audiologist can provide a range of treatment options and counseling.

Eight: Tinnitus can be made worse.

Exposure to sudden or long term noise can result in tinnitus. Stress and fatigue only exacerbate tinnitus. It is essential to tell your family doctor about your tinnitus; some common medications cause tinnitus as a side effect or make your existing tinnitus worse. Take special care with medications for arthritis, rheumatic diseases, some antibiotics, and anti-depressants. Also aspirin - ask your doctor about alternatives. Try easing off caffeine, smoking and alcohol as they can temporarily worsen tinnitus for some people.

Tinnitus isn’t simple. Everybody's tinnitus noise is individual to them. Its causes are many (though excessive noise and some medications are the major preventable causes). The range of tinnitus is very wide from mild to severe. It is usual for tinnitus to fluctuate with stress or tiredness and this has no sinister significance.

If tinnitus is troubling you TAKE ACTION NOW. Call us 02 8599 1600

Sources: http://www.tinnitus.asn.au/, Your guide to better hearing, Better Hearing Institute & British Tinnitus Association website.

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