Tinnitus blights many lives. Current estimates indicate that around 6 million people experience tinnitus in the UK. We take a look at the latest treatments available and offer tips on how to manage your tinnitus.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is when you hear sounds in the ears, that are not made externally. The type of sound you hear varies from person to person – it might be continuous:
Whatever the sound, it can be extremely stressful because the sound affects the ability to concentrate.
What causes tinnitus?
There are no obvious causes but it could be due to an ear infection, exposure to loud noises, a side effect of some types of medication or a condition such as Meniere’s disease. The World Health Organisation is particularly concerned that environmental noise is becoming louder. According to WHO, loud environments affect our health, well-being and ability to think clearly and be productive.
Stress appears to be a significant trigger for making tinnitus worse. Those with the condition quite often report that their tinnitus is a good indicator of their overall stress levels. Stress has numerous negative effects on the body including lowering the body’s immune system.
Other health issues such as depression and anxiety can also make the condition worse. That’s why our recommendation is to see your GP to establish the cause. You may have a simple build-up of ear wax which can be treated quickly. Or you may need to be referred to the hospital for additional tests to find any underlying health issues.
Is tinnitus treatable?
Surprisingly, there are no standard guidelines for treatment. However, an investigation is always advised as treatment depends on the cause of the sounds you hear. If there is no cause, then treatment will be dependent on the severity and frequency that your tinnitus occurs. For some people, the sounds are continuous, so a range of treatments are needed to manage the psychological impact. For others, it occurs in times of stress. If tinnitus is stress-related then treatments such as CBT or coping strategies such as meditation may help. Recent research suggests that Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is particularly successful in helping people manage their tinnitus.
Whatever the cause, your GP or audiologist at your local hospital will be able to advise on the best treatment options for you. Taking action is often difficult emotionally because it means admitting that you may have a problem. However, it is better to know if your tinnitus is temporary or permanent so you can get the best treatment that suits you and your lifestyle.
We asked a number of tinnitus sufferers for their tips and coping strategies. Here are some of their recommendations:
- Use distraction: Use sounds such as gentle music or use apps that provide a range of natural sounds like rain, wind through the trees. Some apps (such as the calm app) also provide modules on how to meditate. You can also find sound therapy tracks on Youtube.
- Find a hobby: Having something to occupy yourself will help to avoid fixating on your tinnitus.
- Talk about it: Find a local support group that can provide emotional support. Other sufferers will understand what you are going through. If you live outside Milton Keynes, you may be able to find a local group in your area by looking at the Tinnitus UK website.
- Get enough sleep: Sometimes tinnitus can affect sleep. However, having a regular bedtime routine, avoiding stimulants and listening to soothing sounds can help reduce sleeping problems.
Is there a cure for tinnitus?
The simple answer is, no. Any treatment aims to help you manage your reaction to the sounds you hear. For example, CBT is used to reduce your anxiety. The best way to approach tinnitus is to explore feelings, thoughts and emotions about tinnitus rather than use strategies to avoid unwanted feelings.
We should pay attention to tinnitus as it acts as a red flag in your life to sort something out.
Are there any medications that help tinnitus?
No. There is no scientific evidence that medications or health supplements help with stopping the sounds. This is why the NHS support re-training your brain to cope with tinnitus. If any organisation suggests medication, you may be wasting your money.
Is there any equipment that would help?
There are lots of private organisations that offer a range of devices intended to ease the effects of tinnitus. We have listed a number of organisations that offer devices:
Prevention is better than (no) cure:
So how do you get rid of tinnitus? It seems that there is more than one way to reduce the impact.
Of course, prevention is better than a ‘cure’. One way of preventing tinnitus is by protecting your hearing. The British Tinnitus Association currently run a campaign called ‘Plug’em’ to encourage people to look after their hearing, particularly in loud environments. If you experience tinnitus, you are the best advocate to encourage family and friends to protect their hearing.
Whilst there is no cure, managing your tinnitus is key to a healthy, balanced life. Do you have any tips for managing tinnitus?