tinnitus man holding ear

Tinnitus: The Definitive Guide

Contributed by Sarah Sheehan

15/06/2021 00:00:00 • 3 min read

Tags • Tinnitus

Here at Hidden Hearing, we meet a lot of clients who live with tinnitus, and we know that this can be an extremely difficult condition to manage. It can impact on several areas of your life, and we discuss what it is and what you can do about it here.

In this article, we will cover:

  1. Understanding Tinnitus: what you should know about the condition
  2. What causes Tinnitus?
  3. How Tinnitus can affect your sleep
  4. How is Tinnitus treated?
  5. Loud noises and Tinnitus
  6. Tinnitus and Flying
  7. Common misunderstandings about Tinnitus
  8. Take a Free Hearing Test

1. Understanding Tinnitus: What You Should Know About The Condition

According to our 2017 online survey on Tinnitus conducted by Empathy Research around 18% of the population in Ireland will suffer from tinnitus at some stage in their lives. Tinnitus is characterised by a ringing, buzzing or humming sound in the ears, and can be frustrating and even debilitating. Sometimes, people with tinnitus describe it as a rushing or swishing sound, like the sound of water running, or a pinging or popping sound in the ears.

Tinnitus may cause continuous noises in the ears, or may come and go in episodes. Either form of tinnitus can be very difficult to live with, and it is important to see an audiologist as soon as possible so that treatment options can be explored. Although there is no definitive cure for tinnitus in most cases, many therapies can be helpful and an audiologist can help you to find out more about these.

Tinnitus can occur in one or both ears, or even inside the head. It is usually subjective, where the sufferer is the only one hearing the sounds in the ears or head, but in rare cases it may be objective, which means that the noises, which are produced by movement and blood flow in the body, are also audible to others.

Speaking out about tinnitus can be very helpful as it enables others to understand the condition. You can help to spread awareness by explaining how the condition affects you and what helps to make life easier for you. You will find that most people will be very happy to help in any way that they can.

2. What Causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a type of hearing loss, and it is usually found in conjunction with other hearing loss. Tinnitus may be related to:

  • An earwax blockage. If you have a build up of earwax in your ears, this can become impacted against the eardrum and cause a ringing or buzzing sound. This causes the same symptoms as tinnitus in some cases, but is very easy to correct with a simple earwax removal procedure, which is free for over 55s in selected Hidden Hearing clinics and branches nationwide.
  • Exposure to loud noises. Many people are not aware that exposure to loud noises is the biggest cause of hearing loss, and this is also a the most significant cause of tinnitus, which often happens temporarily after exposure to a very loud sound. Listening to music via headphones increases your risk of damage to the ears, and sporting events and music concerts are often much louder than the safe listening volume.
  • Ear infections. Ear infections are very common and can often lead to problems with hearing, including tinnitus. People who experience ear infections frequently are far more likely to develop hearing loss and tinnitus, and this can even result in total hearing loss.
  • High blood pressure. High stress levels are associated with high blood pressure, and this can lead to many conditions, including tinnitus. A high stress lifestyle, certain health conditions, or a diet that is high in caffeine and alcohol can increase the blood pressure and make tinnitus more likely.
  • An underlying condition. Occasionally, tinnitus may be a symptom of another condition, such as Meniere’s disease or a tumour in the head, jaw or neck. It is vital to see an audiologist to rule out conditions such as this, especially if you suddenly develop tinnitus in one or both ears, or if you notice your tinnitus changing.
  • Prescribed medication. Some medications can cause tinnitus and other forms of hearing loss, and this is especially likely if you have a family member who has also experienced this problem. If you are prescribed any medications, you should discuss this concern with your doctor and alert him or her to any family history.

3. How Tinnitus Can Affect Your Sleep

Tinnitus can be a very difficult condition to live with, especially if it interferes with your sleep. Tinnitus can have a big impact on your sleep patterns, making it harder for you to fall asleep and affecting the quality of sleep, as well. This can lead to fatigue during the day, and increases the likelihood of developing anxiety and depression.

Relaxation and meditation can be the most helpful strategies to manage tinnitus and improve the quality of your sleep, but many other treatments and therapies can work for different people. Read on for advice on how to manage tinnitus and alleviate the problems it can bring.Tinnitus is often more obvious at night time, when the symptomatic sounds appear louder as the environment is quiet. Pain or stiffness in the head, neck and jaw is common in people who suffer with tinnitus, and this can also make natural sleep more difficult. Raising your head and neck by using an extra pillow can help to resolve this problem. Seeking help for your tinnitus can help to address this problem if you learn strategies that enable you to fall asleep more easily.

4. How Is Tinnitus Treated?

There is not a foolproof cure for tinnitus yet, but there are many different ways to address the symptoms of the condition, and some of these work very well to make life much more manageable for sufferers. Several different types of therapy can be helpful, and you can work with an audiologist to find the best solutions for you.

Potential treatments for tinnitus include:

  • Sound therapy. Sound therapy is based on changing the way the brain perceives the tinnitus noises, and this can bring a great deal of relief to those who live with tinnitus every day
  • Hearing aids. Hearing aids are the most popular way to treat tinnitus, and can be programmed to help the wearer to cope with the buzzing or ringing sounds. Tinnitus is almost always associated with another type of hearing loss, and hearing aids are very efficient as they can be used to treat both conditions at the same time.
  • CBT. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is a form of therapy that aims to change the way in which the sufferer responds to the noises of tinnitus. CBT focuses on developing more effective responses to stimuli, and this can be a great way to train the brain to cope with tinnitus.
  • Mindfulness. Mindfulness and meditation are often recommended to lower stress levels and reduce anxiety, and to help to train the mind to ‘tune out’ the sounds of tinnitus. Many health conditions can be linked with stress and anxiety, and these are very useful skills to help with many aspects of life.
  • Lifestyle changes. In some cases, making physical changes to your lifestyle or diet, such as reducing blood pressure or correcting blood sugar imbalances, can help to relieve tinnitus. Dietary factors that can increase blood pressure include caffeine and alcohol, and reducing these can improve many aspects of your general health, as well as protecting your hearing. A healthy, balanced diet is an important factor in protecting your hearing and your health, and maintaining a healthy weight helps to prevent many health problems, including tinnitus, which has been linked to obesity.
  • Avoiding triggers. If your tinnitus is triggered by certain sounds, you may find that avoiding these wherever possible helps to manage tinnitus in your daily life. If you know that the sound of certain everyday items, such as the telephone or doorbell, can trigger the sounds in your ears, you may wish to find alternatives in your home and even watch television or films using subtitles with the volume turned down to avoid these triggers.

Of course, if your tinnitus is caused by an earwax blockage, you will obtain great relief from your symptoms when you have an earwax removal procedure.


5. Loud Noises And Tinnitus

Did you know that Tinnitus is most commonly caused by exposure to loud noises? Many people do not realise how dangerous loud noises can be, and knowing the safe listening limits can protect your ears against hearing loss as you age.

Listening to loud music, especially via headphones, can be extremely dangerous and cause permanent damage to the ears. People who work in noisy environments on a daily basis, such as construction sites and music venues, have a much higher risk of hearing loss than others and should wear ear protection whenever possible.

You can protect your ears by:

  1. Wearing ear defenders when you are in a loud environment and cannot remove yourself from the source of the noise. For example, if you are attending a music concert or festival, or if you work in a noisy location. This is especially important for young children, because their ears are more sensitive and they are more likely to sustain damage from loud noises.
  2. Turning down the volume wherever possible, especially if you are listening to music via headphones. Experts recommend a safe listening limit of 60/60 if wearing headphones, listening at up to 60% of the volume for up to 60 minutes per day. This is because headphones place the source of the noise closer to your eardrum, making it more likely that the hearing organs will sustain damage.
  3. Taking regular breaks. Give your ears a break when they have been subjected to loud noises, or even constant noises at a lower volume. Sometimes silence really is golden, and it is well worth building regular quiet time into your routine to give your ears a break and a chance to recover from the daily barrage of sounds around you.
  4. Being aware of the risks of everyday noises, such as food mixers and lawnmowers. Even a single exposure to a painfully loud noise can lead to permanent damage to the ears, so it is very important to understand how dangerous sudden loud noises can be.
  5. Seeking help if you notice a problem with your hearing. Many people feel embarrassed about experiencing problems with their hearing, and often delay seeking help. This can have serious implications, however, as untreated hearing loss can cause further deterioration of the hearing organs and can lead to the development of linked conditions such as depression, anxiety and dementia. If you think that your hearing is worsening, or you notice that you are asking people to repeat themselves or turning up the volume on your television, or if you hear a ringing or buzzing sound in your ears, you should visit an audiologist or your doctor as soon as you can.

6. Tinnitus And Flying

Tinnitus can be triggered or worsened by certain noises, or in situations that increase blood pressure or stress levels. If you are in a high stress environment, such as taking a flight, you may find that your tinnitus becomes harder to manage.

The engine noise and the alterations in air pressure are often problematic for tinnitus sufferers who are travelling by air, and it is a good idea to prepare yourself before you take a flight. The following tips may be useful if you have tinnitus and are planning a trip, and you can talk to us to help alleviate any concerns you have.

Tips for flying with Tinnitus:

  • Plan ahead. Consider where you will be seated in the aircraft, and remember that many people find it easier to cope with tinnitus if they sit further away from the source of the noise. The engines, the source of the loudest noises you will hear on the flight, are located on the wings, so it can help to sit in an aisle seat, further back in the plane. Some people find it easier to sit in front of the wings, however, so you may need to experiment to find out which is the best seating location for you.
  • Wear your hearing aid. Or don’t. Again, it is a matter of experimenting to find out what works best for you. Many people obtain a great deal of relief from tinnitus when they are wearing their hearing aids, and this can be very helpful while flying. Hearing aids are not required to be switched off during a flight, as other electronic devices are. Some people, however, find it easier to manage their tinnitus if they switch off their hearing aids while flying, and may prefer to wear earplugs instead.
  • Protect your ears. The pressure and the temperature in an aircraft can be unpredictable, and if it is cold you may experience more problems with your ears. Keeping yourself and your ears warm by wearing extra layers, including a hooded sweatshirt or a hat, can help to protect your ears and to block out more noise.
  • Yawn, chew or swallow. Problems with your ears while flying are often a result of changing pressure in the aircraft. You can try to relieve this by yawning or swallowing, or by chewing something such as gum to alter the pressure in your ear canals and prevent ear pain and tinnitus.
  • Relax. It sounds easy, but relaxing does not always come naturally when you are experiencing tinnitus. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help a great deal, and you may be able to distract yourself from the condition by reading or watching a film during your flight.

If you are worried about flying with tinnitus, talk to your audiologist or doctor before taking your trip. It is always a good idea to get your hearing aids checked before you go abroad to reduce the likelihood of having to seek emergency help or repairs, and it may help to research local hearing clinics in your destination so that you do not have to worry about experiencing problems while you are away.


7. Common Misunderstandings About Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a very common condition, but it is often misunderstood by those who have not experienced it. Here, we explore the myths about tinnitus and find out the facts:

Myth: Tinnitus is all in the mind.
Fact: Tinnitus is a real condition that affects the inner ear and is believed to be caused by damaged hair cells in the cochlea that cause the brain to receive faulty information, ‘hearing’ a sound that is not present. Tinnitus is not an imagined condition, and some audiologists are able to isolate the sounds that tinnitus sufferers hear.

Myth: Tinnitus cannot be treated.
Fact: Tinnitus can be treated in many different ways, and if it is caused by a physical blockage in the ear, such as impacted earwax, it may be very easily resolved with surgery or a simple earwax removal procedure. If tinnitus is caused by damage to the hearing organs, there is no definitive cure at present, but many types of therapy can relieve the symptoms of the condition. Meditation and mindfulness are often recommended, and CBT and sound therapy are also popular choices. For most people, the most effective method of managing tinnitus is by wearing hearing aids and this can work well as most tinnitus co-exists with another hearing loss.

Myth: Tinnitus is not connected to hearing loss.
Fact: Studies have shown that at least 90 percent of those suffering from tinnitus will also have another hearing loss. Some of these are cases of ‘hidden hearing loss’, where the hearing loss is not detected until the tinnitus is investigated or treated. Because hearing aids are useful in treating hearing loss and tinnitus, these can be a good solution to both conditions, functioning to minimise the contrast between tinnitus and the surrounding environment as well as picking up and amplifying sounds.


8. Take A Free Hearing Test At Hidden Hearing

Hidden Hearing is the leading private provider of hearing care solutions in Ireland, with a national network that includes over eight branches and clinics, and we understand tinnitus! We know that it can interfere with many different aspects of your life, including taking a hearing test, and we will discuss this with you and talk through any concerns you may have.

If you have tinnitus and already wear hearing aids, you will probably have discussed your tinnitus with your audiologist already. If you have not, it is a good idea to do so as soon as possible. Tinnitus can be most effectively treated by the used of hearing aids, and your audiologist can help with this.

If you have just started to experience tinnitus, you can book a free hearing test and find the best solution for your situation. It is important to be aware that feeling stressed or anxious about your hearing test may lead to poorer results. Learning to relax will help, and this can be crucial in learning to tune out your tinnitus and manage it on a daily basis.

Our experienced audiologists can help you to find the right options for you, ensuring that you can live the life you want, regardless of your hearing loss and tinnitus. We have an excellent range of digital hearing aids for you to try, including in-the-ear models that are invisible to others, so simply call us today to book your free hearing test.

Book a Free Hearing Test

audiologist male
Written by: Sarah Sheehan, Chief Audiologist, ISHAA Member
Sarah Sheehan is an esteemed member of our HR, L&D and Compliance Department, who joined Hidden Hearing in 2018 as an audiologist. Sarah’s career has seen her work in a wide range of areas within the company and she is committed to providing education about audiology and keeping abreast of current audiology trends.