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Tinnitus

Your guide to tinnitus

Have you ever experienced buzzing, hissing or ringing in your ears? You could be experiencing tinnitus. It’s a common condition, and although we don’t completely understand it yet, no-one who has tinnitus should have to suffer from it.
 
You can follow this guide for information about what tinnitus is, how to prevent it and ways to reduce its impact on your life.

Click on a link below for quick navigation, or you can simply keep scrolling.

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What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the perception of sound in your ears or head, but the noise doesn’t come from the outside world. It can be constant or it can come and go.

It’s quite common and affects about 13% of the UK population (that’s around 1 in 8)1.

Tinnitus isn’t a disease by itself, but usually a common symptom of other conditions related to your ears and hearing.

This doesn’t mean it isn’t serious; it causes a lot of stress, worry and anxiety for many people.

What are the tinnitus symptoms?

Tinnitus is often described as a continuous sound, although there is no external sound source. Many people who suffer from tinnitus say it’s like a constant ringing in the ears, or a white noise, like an analogue radio or TV that hasn’t quite been tuned in.

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Other people say it’s like a hissing or buzzing sound, but the descriptions vary depending on the underlying causes of the tinnitus and its severity. People have described tinnitus sounding like:

  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Whooshing
  • Whistling

This video shows people describing their tinnitus, so you can see just how widely it can vary from person to person.

What causes tinnitus?

There isn’t a single known cause of tinnitus.

How tinnitus is triggered isn’t completely understood either. It can either come on gradually over a long period of time, or start suddenly without an obvious reason. But there are some factors that are associated with the onset of tinnitus:

  • Exposure to loud sounds
  • Ear infections
  • Emotional stress
  • Head or ear injuries
  • Hearing loss
  • Medication side effects
  • Ear wax build-up
  • A combination of the above

Some cases of tinnitus might be linked to your posture, the way you sit and your position when you lie down. Even the way you turn your head can affect the intensity of your tinnitus. This could be due to the muscles, nerves and bloodflow in your neck2.

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You might develop tinnitus after an ear infection, cold or an injury, but whether the tinnitus you experience will be short-lived cannot be said for certain. 

Ear syringing can also trigger tinnitus, although we don’t recommend ear syringing (we use a different type of wax removal).

While there’s no evidence that stress directly causes tinnitus, it can make your current tinnitus worse.

conclusion-icon_100x100px-(1)Loud noises are also associated with the onset of tinnitus3. Famously, The Who’s guitarist Pete Townshend blamed his tinnitus on years of live rock concerts. While you might not have a rock-star background, we’ve all experienced a brief ringing in our ears at some point.

Online Tinnitus Test

People with tinnitus often experience hearing loss too. Answer four questions to find out if you might have tinnitus and/or hearing loss – and see what you can do about it.
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  • Do you ever experience ringing or buzzing noises in your ear(s) when no external sound is present?

    Question 1 – Experiencing ringing or buzzing noises
    Yes No
  • Do you ever have trouble falling asleep or concentrating due to any ringing or buzzing noises in your ear(s)?

    Question 2 – Falling asleep
    Yes No
  • Do you ever have trouble following conversations because you can’t hear properly?

    Question 3 – Trouble following conversations
    Yes No
  • Do you find yourself turning up the volume on the TV or radio louder than others?

    Question 4 – Understanding what others are saying
    Yes No
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The emotional impact of tinnitus

Tinnitus can make you feel isolated and alone – other people can’t hear these sounds, or understand what it’s like to live with them day in and day out. 

This can often lead to emotional stress such as frustration, fear and anger, as well as problems with sleep and general well-being. It can cause you to withdraw from social situations, and can even trigger depression4.
  
And since stress is a major contributing factor towards making tinnitus symptoms worse, sufferers can end up in a vicious circle.

How can I prevent tinnitus?

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    Don’t put things into your ear

    You can go a long way towards helping to prevent tinnitus, or help lower the risk of developing it during your lifetime. The most obvious and simple way is to protect the ears from any type of damage. You ears have a natural self-cleaning process, so there is no need to insert things into the ear canal like cotton buds to remove wax from the ears. 

    Pushing foreign objects into the ears can risk damaging the eardrum and can even make the build-up of ear wax worse. You might accidentally push it further down the ear channel and compact it even more.

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    Treat ear infections quickly

    Getting an ear infection treated quickly and effectively with prescribed medication can help reduce the risk of any long-term damage that could lead to tinnitus.

    Ignoring any ear infections in the hope they’ll go away on their own could just lead to more problems.

  • Protect your ears

    Noise damage is one of the main causes of hearing loss in the general population. You can be left with tinnitus after being exposed to a loud sound, whether you’ve also been left with hearing loss or not. 

    Wearing ear plugs or ear defenders in noisy workplaces is important, especially if you spend long hours in a noisy work environment most days. Health and safety regulations may require the use of ear protection in noisy work environments, but you need to make sure you use the equipment provided. Not doing so may lead to hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

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    Enjoy music – responsibly

    If you’re a fan of live music, and love nothing better than attending concerts and music gigs, then positioning yourself well away from loudspeakers will reduce the chances of damage to your eardrums.

    Limiting your use of iPods and other personal music devices, as well as lowering the volume, will also help reduce the impact of loud, prolonged music that could lead to the development of tinnitus.

Hearing loss and tinnitus

Tinnitus and hearing loss are closely linked. Leading hearing aid manufacturer Oticon estimate that 80% of people with hearing loss also suffer from tinnitus. It could be that we all have some degree of tinnitus, and even losing part of our hearing makes it much more noticeable.

This might sound familiar if you routinely experience tinnitus. Many people with tinnitus say it’s worse when life is quiet, like when going to bed.

Tinnitus can also be a symptom of a type or degree of hearing loss.

We know that being exposed to loud noise over long periods of time can cause both hearing loss and tinnitus which is consistent with damage to the inner ear.

Your cochlea (part of the inner ear) contains delicate and sensitive hair cells that can be damaged through exposure to excessive levels of sound. When this happens, it can lead to a lack of clarity in your hearing and the same damage can trigger tinnitus.

Background Noise

Our brains are constantly processing sounds from a number of sources, like:

  • Traffic
  • Conversations
  • TV and radio
  • Weather.

With so much noise in our everyday lives, it could be we’re automatically distracted from tinnitus-like sounds.

conclusion-icon_100x100px-(1)Less than half of people suffering from tinnitus have seen a doctor about it5, but there is help available.

Your doctor will need to review any previous instances of uninvestigated tinnitus and once they’ve done this, you can talk to one of our hearing care experts about how a hearing test may help. 

A lot of people suffering from hearing loss and tinnitus find that hearing aids can be very helpful. Hearing aids can strengthen the surrounding environmental sounds as well as distracting your brain from the sound of tinnitus.

Hearing aids and technology for tinnitus

We tailor your hearing aids and sound therapy to you.

  • product-image-oticon-more-bte

    Oticon More’s groundbreaking technology can help you hear every detail, understand and remember more, and all with less effort.

  • oticon-on-app-2

    Tinnitus SoundSupport is a sound generator that can be integrated into Oticon hearing aids. Specially designed programmes in the hearing aids allow you to play various sounds that can help you move your attention away from your tinnitus.

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    With the Oticon Opn S, you have the option to add a wide range of customisable tinnitus relief sounds that are dynamic, yet soothing.

Is there a cure for tinnitus?

There is currently no single cure for tinnitus. Experts, however, are quick to highlight that since tinnitus has many different forms, and many different causes, there may be multiple tinnitus cures or treatments in the future.

So while there might not be a specific cure, there are treatments for tinnitus and a lot of therapies to help manage it. These can help to reduce the impact tinnitus is having on your life.

With the right information and guidance, you could find a treatment or combination of therapies that work for you and help you manage your symptoms.

Some people find that tinnitus might come and go in relation to other underlying conditions.

Tinnitus relief is not an exact science, but below are some of the more popular tips that have helped our customers in the past.

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Tips for dealing with tinnitus

1. Try to relax

There’s evidence that stress and high levels of anxiety can make tinnitus worse. 

It’s difficult to relax when you have tinnitus. The more you focus on it, the louder it seems and the more stressed you become. And you end up in a vicious circle.

Trying relaxation techniques can help manage your stress which could in turn make your tinnitus less troublesome.

The NHS recommends breathing exercises to help with stress, or gentle yoga.

2. Tinnitus counselling

While there might not be a specific tinnitus ‘cure’ yet, don’t underestimate the benefits of seeking help from a suitably qualified hearing therapist. If you’re finding that your tinnitus is becoming worse or more difficult to deal with, the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) are there to help.

3. Sound therapy

Sound therapy for tinnitus relief has a long history. In 1903, physician J.A. Spaulding would play piano notes to match his patients’ tinnitus frequency. He’d play it louder and louder until it masked their tinnitus6.  

Sounds are still used in tinnitus management today. Some people find it helps distract them from the noise of tinnitus. Others use specific sounds to help them relax. 
Since hearing loss and tinnitus are so closely linked, many hearing aids even have tinnitus support options available.

The effectiveness of sound therapy is still inconclusive7, so while it might not solve your tinnitus, some people will find it useful, especially when used along with other treatments.

Your tinnitus questions answered

For World Hearing Day 2021, we teamed up with the BTA for a Q&A session. Nic Wray, communications manager at the BTA, answered your questions.

FAQs

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