Tinnitus Awareness week: Learning to live with tinnitus

The Tinnitus help team at Action on Hearing Loss: manager Andy Palmer with members of his team Rachel Timpson, Emma Marriott, Arran Coles and Filippo Pasqualino. Photo: Rowland Hobson/Peterborough ET (METP-23-01-12RH-2)
The Tinnitus help team at Action on Hearing Loss: manager Andy Palmer with members of his team Rachel Timpson, Emma Marriott, Arran Coles and Filippo Pasqualino. Photo: Rowland Hobson/Peterborough ET (METP-23-01-12RH-2)
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Tinnitus Awareness week runs from February 6 to 12 and the charity Action on Hearing Loss is aiming to make the potentially life-ruining condition better known. CARLY Lewthwaite found out more about how to cope.

The theme of the event this year is tinnitus in primary care, with the aim of encouraging better awareness of the condition among GPs and health practitioners, as well as the general public.

The word ‘tinnitus’ comes from the Latin word for ‘ringing’ and is the perception of sound when there is no external source.

Although the name comes from the word for ringing, tinnitus can cause the sufferer to experience a range of noises, from ringing and whistling to buzzing, hissing, humming and droning.

It can also be a complex sound, like the roar of the ocean, and can sometimes beat in time with a person’s heartbeat. This is called pulsatile tinnitus.

The noise may be heard in one ear, both ears, in the middle of the head or, in some cases, it may be difficult to pinpoint an exact location.

Andrew Palmer of the Tinnitus Helpline in Peterborough, part of Action on Hearing Loss, explained why so little is known about what can be a debilitating condition.

He said: “There is so little awareness because people don’t feel there is anything they can do about it. We know there are problems with awareness amongst GPs about how it can affect the life of someone who is suffering and the patient doesn’t always get the support that they need.

“We are trying to raise awareness because millions of people suffer from it.”

The sound experienced by someone suffering from tinnitus may be low, medium or high‑pitched. There may be a single noise or two or more at once, and the disturbance may be continuous or it may come and go.

Tinnitus is a symptom rather than a condition itself. The sounds are usually only heard by the person who has tinnitus, although in a few rare cases, they can also be heard by other people.

Temporary tinnitus can be caused by a cold, a blow to the head, build up of wax in the ear or prolonged exposure to a loud noise, such as a music concert.

In the last year alone, the Tinnitus Helpline in Peterborough, based in Orton Southgate, has handled more than 20,000 calls from people suffering from the condition or those looking to find out more.

Andrew told us about a user of their tinnitus forum and caller to the helpline who suffered from tinnitus as a result of listening to loud music.

He said: “This man in particular, who has asked to remain anonymous, got in touch with us last summer.

“He lives locally and had been out for the evening with his girlfriend and had a good night, listening to loud music and was very close to the speakers.

“When he got home he realised his ears were ringing and the next day they seemed to get worse. It became so bad that he withdrew socially, stopped watching films because he couldn’t concentrate and nearly lost his job.

“A short while later he posted on our forum that he was going to do something serious, that he was going to commit suicide. I personally spoke to him through the forum and then on the telephone to ensure that he was safe.

“A few weeks later he came back on the forum and said that even though he had been in a dark place, he was now feeling more positive and encouraged others in a similar position to hold on in there.

“I haven’t spoken to him in the last few weeks but when we did speak last he was doing really well.”

Tinnitus is a common condition, with approximately one in ten people in the UK having some awareness of tinnitus. However, only one in 200 people are severely affected by it.

Most people learn to live with tinnitus, but it can have a significant affect on daily life. For example, it can affect concentration and cause sleeping problems and depression.

There is currently no cure for long-term tinnitus. Therefore, the aim of treatments, such as sound therapy, relaxation therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), is to help people manage their symptoms effectively.

Andrew explained that although there is no cure, a sufferer can learn to live with it.

He used the example of moving next to a busy railway to explain how you can learn to ‘tune out’ tinnitus.

Andrew said: “If you were to move next to a railway line, your brain would perceive the noise of the trains as a problem, something different.

“However, if you don’t make an issue of the noise each time you hear it, your brain relaxes and realises the trains are no longer a threat, and tunes them out.”

Andrew added that, even if a sufferer thinks there is nothing that can be done, a check-up with a GP is essential because there can be other causes.

He said: “We know that stress is linked to tinnitus, so the more relaxed a sufferer is, the better. It can also be caused by certain medication, low blood pressure, a tumor or pressure on the auditory canal which can be caused by excess ear wax, so it is always worth getting checked out.”

Tinnitus is very common in all age groups, especially following exposure to loud noise, however, it is unusual for it to be a major problem.

Mild tinnitus is common – about 10 per cent of the population have it all the time and, in up to one per cent of adults, this may affect the quality of their life.

There is a widely held misconception that tinnitus is confined to the elderly, but various studies have shown that it can occur at any age, even in quite young children.

Andrew said that members of Action on Hearing Loss will be out in force during Tinnitus Awareness Week, keen to spread the word and offer help and advice.

He said: “We will be running special posts and events on our Tinnitus forum during the week as well as visiting GP surgeries in the local area to provide them with information for their waiting rooms.

“We are also hoping to visit some major local pubs, clubs and gyms to provide them with information about tinnitus and what causes it.”

Tinnitus Awareness Week

Tinnitus Awareness Week 2012 runs from February 6-12 and aims to raise awareness of the condition amongst GPs and other primary care workers. Action on Hearing Loss is the new name for the RNID (Royal National Institute for Deaf People)

The Tinnitus Helpline can be reached on 0808 808 0123 for telephone users or 0808 808 9000 for textphone users or you can visit the website at www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk

The Tinnitus Helpline is a free and confidential helpline, run by highly trained staff who are available to listen and offer advice on the many therapies and options available.

Tinnitus affects one in seven people in the local area.

Members of Action on Hearing Loss will be running an information stall in Queensgate as well as posting special events on their forum (accessed via the website) featuring facts and information on the condition.

More about Tinnitus Awareness week - www.tinnitus.org.uk