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Tinnitus is the name used to describe the “noise” which sufferers hear in their heads, it is not an external noise that is heard but it exists and sometimes it is extremely loud in the heads of the people who experience it.

Who gets tinnitus?
It is more common than originally thought; many people have mild tinnitus which does not affect them throughout their lives. A study was done with students where a group who claimed not to have suffered from tinnitus were placed in a silent sound proof room and asked to record what they heard. A high proportion claimed to have heard whooshing, ringing, and other sounds connected with tinnitus. Often tinnitus is associated with the elderly but it has been acknowledged that it can occur in any age group.

The precise cause of tinnitus is still not fully understood and has been attributed to a variety of causes:

  • Exposure to loud noise-loud factories

  • Disease of the ears/inflammation/ infections/glue ear

  • Headphones/ earpieces combined with loud music/mobile phones

  • Ear wax

  • medicines such as aspirin or some antibiotics

  • High blood pressure

  • Otosclerosis, -where the stapes bone in the middle ear becomes immobile

  • Ménière's

  • Head injury

  • Hypothyroidism- under active thyroid

  • Anaemia –a deficiency of red blood cells

  • Acoustic neuroma, - a slow growing non-cancerous  tumour affecting the auditory nerve
  • Lupus -a autoimmune disease that can affect nearly any structure in the body.

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What does it sound like?

The noise itself has been described as a drone, ringing, whooshing, a high pitched squeal, whistling etc. The noise can be low pitched, medium or high pitched, and sometimes is not just a single noise but can be a combination of a medium hum with a high pitched squeal. It is a constant background irritation and many people find it extremely disruptive to their day to day living. Often the internal noise is perceived as so loud that when taking part in discussions where there is a lot of additional noise the individual is left out of the conversation as they are unable to pick the words out. It is often difficult to locate which ear the tinnitus is coming from as the sufferer is often unable to exactly isolate it. One of the problems being that the noise may be constant or it may come and go.

What makes it worse?

  • Stress
  • Loud sounds
  • Aspirin
  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine
  • Alcohol

All these in moderation are fine excesses are the problem.

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It is very important that you have your tinnitus assessed by either your GP or by an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist to ensure you receive the correct diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment for tinnitus is more of management  as there is no cure for the noise but there is help available in many different capacities :-

  • Counselling - This can give you the opportunity to talk about how you feel and to help you come to terms with the condition and accept the adaptations you may need to make. The psychological attitude that you have towards your tinnitus is crucial as the more positive you are the less the tinnitus will be a problem

  • Sound/noise generator – this helps to retrain your brain by playing “white noise” which can be set at below the level of tinnitus you are suffering- it sounds like a radio which isn’t tuned in properly.-

  • Sound therapy - this works by filling the silence with soothing, pleasant recordings which will distract you from the tinnitus.

  • Complementary therapy - Any of the complimentary therapies which help you to relax and to concentrate on you wellbeing and not your tinnitus are worth looking into

  • Hearing aid – These can sometimes be of use for amplifying background
    noises to mask the tinnitus

  • Relaxation therapy – stress if often associated with tinnitus and you often find that it is a vicious circle. You hear the noise get anxious about it and it seems to become louder. Audiology departments often run relaxation classes, or you could try yoga or meditation

  • Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) or Auditory Habituation therapy - was developed by Dr. Pawel Jastreboff in the mid-1980s. This is the concept of retraining the brain to no longer hear or indeed perceive the noise at a conscious level. For instance if you go into your kitchen you do not always hear the fridge whirring away but it is, you just don’t hear it , if you bring the thought to the foreground you will hear it but just as easily dismiss it. Every day you hear sounds that you routinely ignore as you associate no negative feelings with them.  Your brain sorts them out according to their significance, giving important sounds high priority and bringing them to your attention and filtering out (habituating) insignificant sounds. This is the position which all tinnitus sufferers would like to be in and with proper training you can enhance your perception of some sounds, and can train your brain to filter out other sounds. With reducing the significance associated to the noise that is heard the brain then begins to classify this noise as one to filter out in day to day life. It can be bought to our attention if we concentrate on it but otherwise ignored. This is a lengthy process though –not a quick fix and can take between 12-18months.

Contact British Tinnitus Association:

British Tinnitus Association
Ground Floor,
Unit 5,
Acorn Business Park,
Woodseats Close,
Sheffield S8 0TB
Telephone: 0800 018 0527
Fax: 0114 258 7059
Website: British Tinnitus Association -

Please Note: The information provided here should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A medical practitioner should always be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions.

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