Tinnitus affects 1 in 8 people and can be very distressing for some. But what exactly is tinnitus and can we help it?

Tinnitus is generally referred to as ringing or buzzing in our ears or head, it can be in one or both ears and can be intermittent or constant. It is recommended to seek GP advice if you suddenly appear to develop tinnitus, especially if it’s only in one ear. Tinnitus can come on suddenly due to exposure to high intense and loud sound such as gunfire or it can come on suddenly due to a medical condition. In general, it comes on gradually as we age and as the hearing begins to deteriorate. If someone has been exposed to a lot of noise throughout their lifetime then they are more at risk of developing tinnitus.

There are two main types of tinnitus:

Non-pulsatile tinnitus (also known as subjective tinnitus)

This is the more common of the two and is often accompanied by hearing loss. Someone suffering with subjective tinnitus normally notice a ringing, buzzing or hissing sound in their ears or head but it can literally be any noise that is not an external sound.

This noise is subjective to the sufferer, people around them won’t hear it, the sound is coming from the sufferer’s auditory cortex within the brain; however, this is where there’s a bit of a grey area – even to this day it is not fully understood to where the tinnitus signal is generated, is it the ear itself? Or the brain? It is still unknown. It is, however, generally regarded to be rooted within the brain and the universal consensus is that it’s our brain filling in any gaps from possible hearing loss – the brain is filling any sensory information that has been lost due to hearing loss from ear wax blockage, general hearing loss or mechanical problem with the ear itself.

As the hearing deteriorates, the tinnitus may increase however, it is worth pointing out that this theory does not ring true for everyone. Not all hearing loss sufferers have tinnitus, some people with normal hearing thresholds do suffer with subjective tinnitus. Stress and/ or poor sleep quality can play a big part in any tinnitus sufferer.

Pulsatile tinnitus (Objective Tinnitus)

People with this type of tinnitus tend to describe a whooshing sound or a pulsing type sound in their ears that mimic a heartbeat. This type of tinnitus can be caused due to abnormal blood vessels or vasculature issues. People who suffer with high blood pressure are more prone to this type of tinnitus and any degree of hearing loss is likely to enhance the sound of this type of tinnitus.

Can we help Tinnitus?

The most frustrating thing about tinnitus is the fact there is no known cure for it but there are plenty of management techniques to adopt to help reduce tinnitus symptoms.

Tinnitus in usually worse late at night or early in the morning, partly due to tiredness which can have a negative effect, but the other factor is generally it being much quieter at these times. When there’s less sound around the tinnitus becomes more noticeable and more pronounced. Environmental noises can help mask the tinnitus’ intensity, so the goal is to fill the silence – this can be any external sound such as an ambient meditational sound or general background noise from the Radio or TV. Using headphones at a suitable volume can also be a good management tool.

Distraction methods are key when it comes to tinnitus management and hearing aids can be a good tool to help mask it – a hearing aid will amplify specific tones to aid a hearing loss which stimulates the brain in areas where tinnitus is more prominent, and this can result in a reduction in tinnitus for the sufferer. Some hearing aids come built in with a dedicated programme to help mask tinnitus with the aid of pink noise which is generally regarded as a better option for tinnitus sufferers than white noise.

At SelectSpecs we have a range of hearing aids that can help a tinnitus sufferer with hearing loss. Our Signia Nx 5 comes equipped with a tinnitus masking programme. For more information click here.

By james