What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of sound in your head or round about your head, it’s generally, really a brain noise, so it’s not a real sound, it’s the phantom perception of sound. Sometimes it can be real sounds, that can come from parts of the body that we are picking up. But the majority of tinnitus is a phantom perception of sound.
How do you get tinnitus?
Excellent question. There are lots of ways that you can get tinnitus, in fact initially we could say that anybody can have tinnitus, it’s a natural phenomena, and in the correct environment, everybody would be able to perceive their own tinnitus. But most people are not aware of that. What triggers it, what seems to make it come to the fore are a couple of things, so for instance, exposure to loud noise.
Exposure to Loud Noise
That’s one of the most common ways and probably the most familiar for most people. Concert-goers, people who are just having a good time. Somebody that’s sat next to somebody that’s very loud, maybe with a football klaxon or something like that, that can really provoke tinnitus and that can be a quite major contribution to tinnitus.
Otoxicity and Viruses
Other roots are otoxicity, so medication, and there are lots of medications which have a side effect of tinnitus. Some are very, very mild and nothing to worry about, and some are very likely to really cause tinnitus. A lot of cancer patients have to take medication which is quite likely to provoke tinnitus. Viruses seem to provoke tinnitus as well sometimes, and that’s more to do with affecting the hearing and it makes you more aware of tinnitus.
Stress and Traumatic Incidents
There may be some other mechanism going on there as well. Another thing is stress. So, it’s quite well known among dedicated health professionals in the tinnitus field but, not, so much perhaps amongst general health professionals. So a bereavement, perhaps a job loss, an incident at work; maybe you saw something quite traumatic, that seems to cause a reaction that may really provoke tinnitus. So, for instance, Saving Private Ryan, you have noise but you also have trauma and if you look at the start of Steven Spielberg’s film, it goes silent, except for the tinnitus noise, and the world slows down. That is him experiencing tinnitus through acoustic trauma and also, stress. That’s a wonderful example of tinnitus and you’ll see it in many other aspects of film as well. And finally perhaps, a trauma.
So actually a physical trauma to the head and that might cause some damage to the auditory system, to the actual cochlea or perhaps some other damage to some other structure in the head, the brain obviously, but really that’s a neurologist’s field but the trauma, I will see patients who have had a car accident or a fall and that has caused damage to their hearing and also provoked tinnitus.
What do you do if you notice the signs of tinnitus?
If you suddenly become aware of tinnitus, the first thing I would say is, “don’t panic, it’s quite normal.” Most of us will experience tinnitus and the likelihood is that it will go away, and really that’s your focus on it. So the key to it is, “don’t panic”. If it’s persistent, and if it’s starting to be something you’re really concerned about, then you really should see your doctor.
ENT or Audiology Referral
Get a referral to ENT/ Audiology, get a hearing test and see whether there’s accompanying hearing loss. If there is, my advice would be to get expertly fitted hearing instruments. That will bring your hearing back, as close to normal as possible and that might just put the tinnitus away into the background. If it is still problematic, then there are specific tinnitus treatments that are available to really help you stop focusing on your tinnitus. Yes, we don’t have a cure for most types of tinnitus, but there is very effective treatment. So the tinnitus doesn’t become the bane of your life and you can get on and enjoy your life. And most people who have tinnitus, don’t really focus on it. They have it and it’s hardly worth talking about.
Is There a Cure for Tinnitus?
Objective or Somatic Tinnitus
There is a cure for some types of tinnitus and these would be objective tinnitus or somatic tinnitus. So it’s actually a noise that you’re perceiving from your body or that’s generating some interaction with your brain. And a surgeon would, perhaps identify something anomalous in your brain and be able to do a procedure to remove it and tht might remove…because that removed the cause, it could remove the tinnitus.
There are other types of tinnitus where you can hear it, that’s clicking, a pulsating tinnitus, so you’re hearing your blood flow essentially and sometimes a procedure can remove that as well. Most types of tinnitus, are subjective tinnitus and that is, we believe essentially, it’s brain noise. So it’s triggered by something, usually an anomaly in your auditory system but it’s your brain that’s perceiving this sound. And no, we don’t have a cure for that at present. But I want to stress because it’s very, very important. We do have effective treatments to put it back in the box by and large.
What Was the Function of the Tinnitus and Hearing Information Shows?
Well, the way we’ve designed the Tinnitus and Hearing Information Show is to deliver several things. First of all, we wanted to bring really knowledgeable speakers about tinnitus and hearing.
Dr James Jackson – Psychologist and Tinnitus Expert
So, we had Dr James Jackson from Leeds Trinity University. He’s an outstanding contributor to any event. He has tinnitus, he has a severe hearing loss and he ‘s got a PhD in tinnitus and other degrees in hearing and psychology. So, he just went down a treat and I’m very pleased to be working with him again.
Bill Whitner and Jack Holman – Hearing Researchers
We have Dr Bill Whitner from The Chief Scientist Office, Medical Research Council, Institute Of Hearing, who is a specialist in hearing research, especially speech and noise, and again had a wonderful contribution, as well as his colleague Jack Holman, who is PhD student and they are based in Glasgow, so that was nice too.
Betty Perrers – Tinnitus Support Group Organiser
We had one of the leading organisers of a tinnitus support group. Betty Perrers, who again has tinnitus and went through dark times but then came through it and is now really outstanding in offering help to people who are experiencing what she experienced ten odd years ago.
Hearing Dogs for the Deaf
And we had Hearing Dogs For The Deaf, which is a kind of human cuddly bit and it is quite nice to see how people kind of respond to the dogs, and of course, they are very highly trained and help a lot of people with profound hearing loss.
Improved Awareness of Tinnitus Treatments
And we had myself, contributing in my own bit about how we used our tinnitus treatment. But also how I think it’s important that we really work to make tinnitus treatment more aware amongst the general public and professionals, but also, hearing loss.
In Praise of Free Treatment of Hearing Loss in the UK
We have a wonderful situation in the UK where you can have free treatment of hearing loss. Hearing aids are free; cost is not a barrier. You can spend money privately but you don’t have to. And we should be getting more penetration. We do very well, but we’re still reaching less than half of the people who would benefit. And if you deal with your hearing, that will knock off a lot of tinnitus patients. They don’t need…they won’t perceive the tinnitus. So, there’s a lot of things that we’re are doing well in the UK, but I think we could be doing, really so much better and that’s part of the function of the Tinnitus and Hearing Information Shows.