What is tinnitus and how is it treated?
The 7th to the 13th February is Tinnitus Awareness Week, a week dedicated to raising awareness about tinnitus and its impact on people’s lives. This year, the British Tinnitus Association is focusing on calling for the establishment of a Tinnitus Biobank.
As something that affects 6 million people in the UK, tinnitus is a very common issue. While manageable for the most part, it can in some cases have a devastating impact on someone’s way of life.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus generally refers to any situation in which an individual can hear a sound in either one or both ears despite no external source. It tends to be described as a ringing in the ears. However, individuals can also experience buzzing, clicking, hissing or humming sounds.
While only a fraction of individuals with tinnitus experience very serious negative effects, these can include disruptions to sleep, irritability, anxiety, trouble communicating, concentration issues and, in extreme cases, depression and suicidal thoughts.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus is usually caused by an underlying condition, for example an ear injury or age-related hearing loss. It can also be caused by noise exposure, head injury, or even certain medications such as salicylates (aspirin), aminoglycoside antibiotics and loop diuretics.
When does it require treatment?
Most people with tinnitus are not too badly affected by it, but there are a few situations in which medical intervention is necessary.
Some scenarios where tinnitus will require urgent medical intervention include:
- Sudden onset of neurological symptoms (e.g. facial droop or arm/leg weakness)
- Tinnitus that occurs after a head injury
- Sudden onset hearing loss
- Sudden onset pulsating sensation
- Tinnitus that’s having a very negative impact on mental health
You should also make an appointment to see a doctor if you experience any of the following alongside tinnitus:
- Hearing loss
- Discharge from the ear
- Anxiety or depression as a result
What will happen when you see a specialist?
In order to determine the cause and best possible course of action for your tinnitus, your consultant will enquire about the exact details of your symptoms.
It is important for your consultant to determine the cause. This requires investigation into factors like the sound being heard, and whether it is being heard in one ear or both. Additional symptoms such as hearing loss, pain, discharge and dizziness are likely to require further investigation. Persistent tinnitus that pulsates or is just in one side will also warrant a referral to an Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) specialist.
Your consultant will also want to establish the effect that the tinnitus is having on your daily life. For the most part, examination and reassurance is all that’s needed, but there are a number of evidence-based management options available to treat moderate to severe cases.
What treatment is available?
In the small number of cases that require further investigation, a number of routes can be taken. As tinnitus is often a symptom rather than a diagnosis, it might be that once the cause is addressed, it will go away. An ENT surgeon can establish the best course of action.
Possible solutions to moderate or severe tinnitus that significantly affects quality of life include:
- Hearing aids
- Sound therapy
- Habituation-based therapy
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
- Self-help groups or online resources
- Support from the British Tinnitus Association
At Phoenix Hospital Group we have one of the most advanced ENT diagnostic and treatment centres in the country. We also have a number of ENT specialists who specialise in hearing problems like tinnitus. Our outpatient centres have fully equipped diagnostic and imaging suites offering a full range of services including CT, MRI, Ultrasound Scans and X-Ray.
To book an appointment with one of our experienced GPs who will be able to refer you to an ENT specialist if necessary, please call 0207 079 2100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org