Tinnitus & Hyperacusis

Tinnitus

If you have been told you have tinnitus, this means that you have a sound in your head or ears that is not coming from an external source.

Tinnitus is not a disease or an illness. Although defined as a ringing in the ears, tinnitus may be heard in the head or in one or both ears. It can be a number of different sounds-hissing, ringing and humming are common, and people often experience varients and combinations of sounds.

How common is it?

  • A third of all adults experience some tinnitus
  • About 10% to 15% of adults report tinnitus that lasts for a prolonged period of time, and is not induced by loud noise,drugs or medication
  • About 1 in 20 adults report that their tinnitus is moderately or severely annoying
  • approximately 8% consult their GP about tinnitus
  • 2-4% have been referred to a hospital concerning tinnitus

Aggravating factors

  • Loud noise, clubs, discos or concerts
  • Ear infections
  • Changes in hearing
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Some drugs and medications

How to help yourself

  • Relaxation
  • Sound therapy
  • Suitably fitted hearing aids

What is habituation?

Habituation involves becoming less reactive towards tinnitus and, as a result less aware of it. As your hearing system learns to filter the tinnitus sound out, you become less aware of it. Habituation will not happen if you monitor your tinnitus continuously, if you are anxious about your tinnitus,if you are concerned about the cause of your tinnitus, or if you become generally stressed and anxious about it. The hearing system interacts with the brain and “tunes in” to tinnitus.

Tinnitus clinics

Tinnitus clinics will assess your hearing, your tinnitus and sensitivity to sound. You may receive a form of habituation based therapy, a combination of sound therapy, counselling and relaxation therapy.

Summary

Tinnitus is a common experience, which often resolves over time. Almost half of people with tinnitus will also have some form of sensitivity to sound. Both tinnitus and sensitivity to sound respond well to treatment, and there are a variety of self-help strategies that you can use.

Hyperacusis

Hyperacusis is a medical term used to describe abnormal discomfort caused by sounds that are tolerable to listeners with normal hearing. It is an elusive phenomenon. Because it is a subjective experience it cannot be measured directly and is, consequently, very difficult to study. Hyperacusis may follow a blow to the head or exposure to loud noise but, for many people, the onset is sudden and inexplicable.

How are the symptoms of hyperacusis managed?

Auditory desensitisation: This can be achieved by using for example a device called a white noise generator. This looks like a small hearing aid which generates white noise. The aim of using noise generators is to improve a persons ability to tolerate normal exposure to sound, by reducing the sensitivity of the ear. This is an established method of treating hearing over-sensitivity and is used in many audiology departments.