February 10, 2016, by Anne S

5 things you need to know about tinnitus

It’s Tinnitus Awareness Week so we asked one of our experts, Professor Deborah Hall, to share five things about one of the most common chronic hearing-related conditions in the western world.

1. Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease

There are many different kinds of medical conditions that can increase the chance of developing tinnitus, often referred to as ‘ringing in the ears’. The most common is hearing loss – it probably accounts for more than 90% of cases. There are more than five million people in the UK with tinnitus.

2. There is no cure for tinnitus

Unfortunately, there is no cure for most cases of tinnitus. In rare circumstances, surgery can alleviate it for people who have a tinnitus caused by a neurovascular problem. The mechanisms of tinnitus are poorly understood but there are many different management options. We hope to provide evidence for the effectiveness of these options through our research.

3. People experience tinnitus differently

Tinnitus is a really personal condition and it affects people in different ways. Clinicians and researchers often rely on questionnaires which ask about a range of different aspects; how loud it sounds, how intrusive it is, how annoying it seems; how much it affects sleep quality; whether it interferes with hearing; how distressed they feel by it; whether they have any fears about it.

4. Tinnitus isn’t just for the over 50s

It’s true that most people start to complain about tinnitus between the ages of 50-69, but teenagers can get tinnitus too. The problem with tinnitus in children is that it’s often under-diagnosed. Our team is just about to embark on a new project funded by the British Tinnitus Association to develop a questionnaire tool for assessing tinnitus in young people.

5. You can enjoy music AND protect your hearing

Listening to any sound at a high volume – more than 89 decibels – for more than five hours a week can damage hearing permanently over time. Although this damage may not be immediately noticeable, over time it can increase the risk of developing hearing problems and tinnitus. Younger people in particular are damaging their hearing by not using earplugs at gigs, festivals and nightclubs, and by turning up the volume on their MP3 players to dangerous levels. My advice is to buy a good quality set of earbuds – don’t rely on the ones that come with your iPod because they don’t work so well at cutting out extraneous background noise. Earbuds with good attenuating properties mean that you don’t need to turn the music up so loud.

Professor Deborah Hall is Director of the National Institute for Health Research Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit.

Image credit: University of Nottingham Students’ Union on Facebook

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