Tin­ni­tus: How to beat the buzzing

The mys­te­ri­ous whistling, ring­ing and buzzing of tin­ni­tus can seem re­lent­less, but there are things that can help. LIZ CON­NOR finds out more

Gloucestershire Echo - - NEWS -

WHAT do Chris Martin, Liam Gal­lagher and Bono all have in com­mon? Aside from the fact that they’re three of the most suc­cess­ful mu­si­cians of the 21st cen­tury, they’ve also all been af­fected by tin­ni­tus.

Char­ac­terised by hear­ing sounds in the ears or head which aren’t from an ex­ter­nal source – such as ring­ing and buzzing, or even roar­ing, whoosh­ing and click­ing sounds – tin­ni­tus can take a num­ber of dif­fer­ent forms. But the fact that oth­ers can’t hear th­ese sounds doesn’t make them any less real, or both­er­some for the per­son ex­pe­ri­enc­ing them.

So what ex­actly is go­ing on, and what do you need to know?

“Tin­ni­tus is a frus­trat­ing con­di­tion that pro­duces a con­stant sound in one or both ears,” says Dr Sarah Brewer, med­i­cal di­rec­tor at Healthspan (Healthspan.com).

“It’s not a dis­ease or ill­ness,” she adds, ex­plain­ing that tin­ni­tus is usu­ally re­lated to an un­der­ly­ing phys­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lem.

A COM­MON CON­DI­TION

“TIN­NI­TUS can af­fect any­one, and it’s found in men and women equally.

It may oc­ca­sion­ally oc­cur in chil­dren but most com­monly af­fects those of be­tween 40 and 70 years of age,” says Dr Brewer.

While some peo­ple might ex­pe­ri­ence the same sound in both ears, oth­ers may hear one type of sound in one ear and a dif­fer­ent sound in the other.

It’s es­ti­mated that 10% of the UK pop­u­la­tion fre­quently ex­pe­ri­ence tin­ni­tus, equat­ing to around six mil­lion peo­ple. For around 5% of th­ese, the prob­lem is per­sis­tent and trou­ble­some, af­fect­ing qual­ity of life by pre­vent­ing sleep, for in­stance.

A RANGE OF CAUSES

AL­THOUGH the causes of tin­ni­tus aren’t al­ways fully un­der­stood, it can be trig­gered by many fac­tors, says Dr Brewer. Ex­po­sure to loud sounds, such as loud mu­sic or ma­chin­ery, is one of the most com­mon causes as it can cause per­ma­nent dam­age to the cells of the cochlea – so mu­si­cians and street re­pair work­ers are among those most at risk. “Hear­ing loss, poor ear hy­giene, men­tal health is­sues and your brain be­ing un­able to con­trol your re­ac­tion to spe­cific sounds can all con­trib­ute to tin­ni­tus too,” adds Dr Brewer. “Other med­i­cal con­di­tions and cer­tain med­i­ca­tions can also play a role.”

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Brewer, a build-up of wax in the ear is the most eas­ily reme­died cause.

Other health is­sues that cause tin­ni­tus in­clude a vi­ral in­fec­tion of the in­ner ear (or ‘labyrinthi­tis’) and Me­niere’s dis­ease – a con­di­tion in which fluid pres­sure in the in­ner ear in­creases, which can also cause se­vere dizzi­ness and nau­sea and a sud­den re­duc­tion in hear­ing.

Tin­ni­tus can also be caused by tak­ing cer­tain med­i­ca­tions.

“Over 200 dif­fer­ent medicines are known to dam­age the ears and can cause tin­ni­tus or prob­lems with bal­ance,” says Dr Brewer. “Th­ese oto­toxic drugs in­clude high-dose as­pirin, qui­nine, cer­tain an­tibi­otics and some can­cer treat­ments, such as cis­platin and car­bo­platin.”

If you’re con­cerned that any med­i­ca­tions you’re tak­ing could be caus­ing tin­ni­tus, speak with your phar­ma­cist and book in to see the doc­tor – they may be able to pre­scribe an al­ter­na­tive, or of­fer ad­di­tional ad­vice for man­ag­ing symp­toms and side-ef­fects.

HELP IS AVAIL­ABLE

WHILE many peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence oc­ca­sional bouts of tin­ni­tus, for some peo­ple it can be an on­go­ing and sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem.

If this is the case, it’s im­por­tant to get things checked out – and there are sev­eral ther­a­pies and so­lu­tions that can help.

If a build-up of wax is ruled out, an au­di­ol­ogy ex­am­i­na­tion may be rec­om­mended – par­tic­u­larly if the tin­ni­tus is only on one side, pulses in time with your heart rate, is as­so­ci­ated with hear­ing loss or dif­fi­cul­ties, or has per­sisted for six months or longer.

Tin­ni­tus might be some­thing you have to live with – but that doesn’t mean the sit­u­a­tion can’t still im­prove.

Cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy (CBT) is a talk­ing ther­apy that helps to change how you re­act to tin­ni­tus, and this can be very help­ful.

“It doesn’t elim­i­nate the sound but re­duces any neg­a­tive re­sponses, such as feel­ings that tin­ni­tus is un­pre­dictable or that you have lost con­trol,” says Dr Brewer.

“Many stud­ies con­firm that CBT is ef­fec­tive in re­duc­ing an­noy­ance, anx­i­ety and dis­tress by help­ing you be­come more used to the sounds you are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.”

The NHS says that tin­ni­tus coun­selling can aid you in learn­ing more about your tin­ni­tus and find­ing strate­gies to cope with it.

Se­vere cases may also be re­ferred to tin­ni­tus re­train­ing ther­apy, which uses sound ther­apy to help re­duce the per­ceived loud­ness of the ring­ing, roar­ing or whistling.

Dr Brewer be­lieves that diet can also play a role in some cases. She sug­gests try­ing a ginkgo ex­tract, which she be­lieves can im­prove

blood flow to the in­ner ear, and pos­si­bly help tackle ver­tigo and tin­ni­tus where symp­toms are linked with ab­nor­mal cir­cu­la­tion.

“An anal­y­sis of six tri­als car­ried out in 2004 found that 21.6% of those tak­ing ginkgo biloba for tin­ni­tus ex­pe­ri­enced ben­e­fit,” says Dr Brewer. How­ever, only 66 pa­tients were in­volved in the trial, so more re­search needs to be done.

As with many things, pre­ven­tion is bet­ter than cure and the gen­eral ad­vice is to try and avoid be­ing ex­posed to overly loud mu­sic and on­go­ing noise as much as pos­si­ble.

Think twice be­fore stand­ing next to loud­speak­ers at gigs or on nights out, and when you can’t avoid be­ing around loud sound, make sure you wear suit­able ear pro­tec­tion.

Liam Gal­lagher suf­fers from tin­ni­tus

Dr Sarah Bewer

Turn the vol­ume down to avoid dam­ag­ing your ears

Tin­ni­tus can af­fect peo­ple’s qual­ity of life

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