From the 4th - 10th February this year, it's Tinnitus Week across the UK. The week was created by the BTA to raise awareness.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a medical term to describe the perception of noise either in one ear, both ears or in the head, when there is no corresponding external sound. All sufferers of tinnitus have different experiences, and hear different 'sounds'. It could be a ringing, buzzing, humming, whistling or something else entirely! Tinnitus often sounds worse when you are in a quiet environment, as there is less background noise and nothing to distract you from the sound.
What causes tinnitus?
Most causes of tinnitus aren't harmful. It is commonly caused by damage that has occurred in the inner ear. Sounds pass from the outer ear through the middle ear and on to the inner ear, which contains the cochlea and the auditory nerve. The cochlea is a coiled, spiral tube that contains a large number of sensitive hair cells. The auditory nerve transmits sounds to the brain. If part of the cochlea becomes damaged, it will stop sending information to parts of your brain. These areas of your brain will then actively "seek out" signals from the parts of the cochlea that are still working. These signals are over-represented in the brain and cause the sounds of tinnitus. In older people, tinnitus is often caused by natural hearing loss, which makes the hearing nerves less sensitive. In younger people, tinnitus can sometimes occur as a result of hearing damage caused by excessive noise.
Other possible causes of tinnitus?
It can be hard to identify the cause of tinnitus, even after seeing a specialist. But as well as natural hearing loss and damage, there are several other possible causes, including: a build-up of earwax that blocks the ear, a middle ear infection (otitis media), glue ear (otitis media with infusion), ostosclerosis - an inherited condition where an abnormal bone growth in the middle ear causes hearing loss, Ménière's disease - a condition that affects a part of the inner ear known as the labyrinth and causes balance problems, Paget's disease - a condition where the normal cycle of bone renewal and repair is disrupted, anaemia - a reduced number of red blood cells that can sometimes cause the blood to become thinner and to circulate so rapidly that it produces a sound, and a perforated eardrum.
How can I get my tinnitus diagnosed?
The first thing to do is see your GP. They will ask you about the noises and probably examine your ears. If your ears are clear and there is no sign of infection, you will be referred on to: the ENT (ear, nose, throat) department at your local hospital, the audiological medicine department, the audiology department, or hearing therapy. As it can be caused by such a wide range of different health issues, it is important to see your doctor. It could be something easily treated like high blood pressure or a build-up of earwax. Some tests that may be run when the doctors are trying to diagnose you include the following: hearing tests, balance tests, ear x-rays, blood tests, CT scans and MRI scans.
How will my tinnitus be treated?
I am just going to point everyone in the direction of the NHS Tinnitus Treatment Page, as so far I have no experience of any successful treatment of tinnitus. This doesn't mean that you won't!! As stated below, I have other issues that are to do with my tinnitus, so your case may be a lot more simple than mine to solve.
What is your experience with tinnitus?
In December 2011, I woke up one morning with unexplained ringing in my right ear. The following week I was very sick, I suffered with severe vertigo which caused sickness and I could barely move. This lasted until a few days before Christmas, and I was diagnosed with Labyrnthitis. It was scary, and I didn't know what was going on! I was prescribed prochlorperazine, an anti-sickness tablet, to help with the sickness. Ever since then, my ear has never stopped ringing! I have also suffered several attacks of vertigo since, and lots of episodes of dizziness. If I'm feeling dizzy, I take prochlorperazine in case it progresses to vertigo. I have had lots and lots of tests (all of those above, read about balance tests here), and as yet I am undiagnosed. One of the tests I've had over and over again, is hearing tests. I have a low frequency deafness in my right ear, this is the opposite to the common high frequency hearing loss. I can still hear just fine, unless I'm lying on my left ear, in which case I struggle. I was given a hearing aid, but with my type of deafness and tinnitus, the hearing aid was pointless. The tinnitus by itself, is not so much of an issue for me. It's only times when it's playing up that I feel like I can't bare it. You do get used to having tinnitus, and for the most part can block it out and ignore it. You eventually learn that if you're thinking about the tinnitus, you will notice it be more and be unable to stop listening! It does flare up at times though, like at the moment for me my tinnitus is constantly changing in tone, volume and intensity, so I'm constantly aware of it. I am still in the process of (hopefully) being diagnosed. I was referred to a new specialist (Dr Peter Rea) at the end of last year, and I am very hopeful that he will be able to diagnose me and help me in some capacity. If you have tinnitus and would like to chat to someone else who does, feel free to contact me :) also, if you'd like any more information on anything I've said, whether you're just curious or you're experiencing similar things, send me a message.
I used information from the NHS website to write this post. If you would like more information, or help, you can visit the Action on Hearing Loss website, or the British Tinnitus Association website.