Good Housekeeping (UK) - - News - Dr Sarah Jarvis an­swers your health ques­tions this month

QI got a cold a few months ago and de­vel­oped tin­ni­tus, which I thought would set­tle but the ring­ing isn’t go­ing. It’s stop­ping me from get­ting any sleep be­cause it’s so loud at night, and I some­times feel I’m go­ing mad.

ATin­ni­tus – a sound you can hear, but that comes from in­side your own head – is re­mark­ably com­mon, af­fect­ing as many as one in 10 adults. Most find it only a mi­nor in­con­ve­nience, but for about one in 100 peo­ple it can have a huge im­pact on qual­ity of life and men­tal well­be­ing. You de­scribe a ring­ing, but ev­ery­one ex­pe­ri­ences tin­ni­tus dif­fer­ently. For some, it’s a buzzing; for oth­ers, a whistling or hiss­ing. You are ab­so­lutely not go­ing mad. Al­most ev­ery­one with tin­ni­tus, though, is more trou­bled by it when they’re in quiet sur­round­ings – that’s ex­actly why you find it gets worse at night.

It is rarely caused by a se­ri­ous un­der­ly­ing cause. The ex­cep­tion is tin­ni­tus in only one ear, es­pe­cially if it’s ac­com­pa­nied by hear­ing prob­lems on the same side. That al­ways needs a re­fer­ral to a spe­cial­ist to ex­clude a tu­mour on the nerve re­spon­si­ble for hear­ing and bal­ance. Pul­satile tin­ni­tus – a rhyth­mic sound in the ear – should also be checked. Me­niere’s dis­ease can lead to bouts of tin­ni­tus, hear­ing loss and ver­tigo.

Tin­ni­tus is also closely linked to hear­ing loss – it’s thought your brain and au­di­tory sys­tem may be try­ing to re­place sounds they’re no longer be­ing stim­u­lated by. Although some peo­ple can have se­vere hear­ing loss with no tin­ni­tus, it’s well worth get­ting your hear­ing checked. Age-re­lated hear­ing loss starts much younger than peo­ple imag­ine – it af­fects 40% of over 50s and, on av­er­age, peo­ple take 10 years to seek help for it. Yet a hear­ing aid can of­ten con­trol tin­ni­tus as well as im­prove your hear­ing.

While there is no cure for most cases, tin­ni­tus does of­ten im­prove with time. Just keep­ing back­ground noise on can also help – ei­ther a ra­dio or a noise gen­er­a­tor that pro­vides sooth­ing ‘white noise’. The Bri­tish Tin­ni­tus As­so­ci­a­tion (tin­ni­ has lots of op­tions. If you’re se­verely af­fected, a re­fer­ral to a tin­ni­tus clinic (run by an au­di­ol­o­gist, with spe­cial­ist Cbt-style counselling) can make a real dif­fer­ence.

QI have to go into hospi­tal soon, and I’ve been told that tak­ing pro­bi­otics could stop me catching bugs while I’m there. Is this true?

ALong gone are the days when we as­sumed that all bac­te­ria were harm­ful. Our guts are teem­ing with friendly bac­te­ria, which aid di­ges­tion and pre­vent harm­ful bac­te­ria from tak­ing con­trol. Pro­bi­otics con­tain large quan­ti­ties of these ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria, most com­monly Bi­fi­dobac­terium and Lac­to­bacil­lus. By con­trast, pre­bi­otics (found in fer­mented foods such as sauerkraut, and in onions, leeks, as­para­gus, ba­nanas, gar­lic and toma­toes) are com­plex car­bo­hy­drates that reach your large bowel un­changed and en­cour­age good bac­te­ria to flour­ish.

The gut in­fec­tion Clostrid­ium dif­fi­cile (also known as C. dif­fi­cile) is of­ten caused by tak­ing an­tibi­otics. It can be se­ri­ous, es­pe­cially if you’re un­well or vul­ner­a­ble be­cause of surgery. There is ev­i­dence that pro­bi­otics can help pre­vent C. dif­fi­cile in­fec­tion in both adults and chil­dren. Im­por­tantly, the risk of se­ri­ous side ef­fects from pro­bi­otics seems low and other stud­ies have sug­gested they can help pre­vent trav­ellers’ di­ar­rhoea as well.

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