The word tinnitus comes from the Latin word tinnire, which means ‘to ring’. The clinical definition describes it as the involuntary perception of sound that originates either within the ears, or within the head.
The sounds can vary, and may be a whistle, a buzz, a hiss or high pitched ringing. Some people say they hear more than one sound. The condition affects around six million people in the UK, with 600,000 saying it severely affects their quality of life.
Tinnitus is commonly linked to some sort of hearing loss or medical condition that reduces hearing sensitivity. In these cases, the hearing part of the brain becomes starved of stimulation and causes nerve cells to fire spontaneously. This makes sufferers hear sounds that aren’t really there.
One in 10 people with tinnitus experience depression, anxiety and sleep problems. The risk of suicide is often increased too, as people find it difficult to cope with the constant sound.
There is no cure for tinnitus currently, however there are treatments available to help reduce the effects. These include the following:
Hearing aids can improve patient’s hearing as well as reduce the prominence of tinnitus. Hearing aids have become a standard intervention for those with tinnitus and hearing loss.
This combines hearing aids with relaxation techniques and counselling. This combination is designed to help patients manage the condition more effectively and encourage the brain to get used to the sound generated by tinnitus. Over time the patient becomes less sensitive to tinnitus.
This is a sound-based therapy that works on nerve cells in the hearing part of the brain. The therapy reduces the hyperactivity of the nerve cells and over time helps to reduce the loudness and intensity of tinnitus.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
This talk therapy aims to reduce the patient’s negative emotional reaction to tinnitus noise. Clinical reviews have found CBT effective at reducing tinnitus-related distress.
Hypnotherapy looks to change the patient’s reaction to tinnitus noises. A hypnotherapist will guide a person’s subconscious mind to process the sounds in the same way it does other background noises. This should help the patient not notice the noises so much, allowing them to more easily tune them out.