Tinnitus (BSL version) 

Tinnitus causes people to hear constant sounds in one ear, both ears or in their head. An audiologist explains the possible causes and effects it often has, such as stress and anxiety, plus how to deal with them. Ashleigh, who was diagnosed with tinnitus in 2005, describes how she copes with it.

The different sounds of tinnitus

Transcript of Tinnitus (BSL version)

Tinnitus is a term that's used to describe

any sound that a person can hear

that isn't present in their external environment.

It comes from Latin word "tinnare", which means to ring,

but it's very rarely described these days as ringing in the ears.

It can be buzzing, grinding, sizzling, hissing,

any number of different noises.

We want to try and find the cause wherever possible

and there's a strong need for a good medical opinion

because there are some disease states that have tinnitus

as part of their symptom profile.

In those cases you can put it down to wax,

to infection, to problems with the inner ear,

sometimes problems with the nerve of hearing or with the brain.

So let's exclude medical causes.

The question then is, what's actually igniting the tinnitus?

What's the mechanism that's causing it to start?

Essentially it's spontaneous activity within the hearing system

but then that activity is then prioritised,

given attention to and given reaction to by the brain.

In my left ear I've got a ringing noise which is very loud

and I've also got , if you listened into a shell on the beach,

a whirring, crashing-wave sound.

I get that in my left ear.

In my right ear I have two different sounds as well.

One is a very high-pitched ringing and the other is a very low ring.

It's a mistake to think that people only hear one consistent noise

because for many people the experience is of several different noises,

sometimes as many as seven or eight,

and they can vary quite considerably.

For some people it's that unpredictability, that variability

that's a major source of the problem.

I have trouble with my tinnitus when I'm trying to get to sleep.

That's the only time that it really bothers me and it is really loud.

Because you're lying there in the dark trying to get to sleep,

it feels ten times louder than it probably is.

The emotional upset feeds the physical upset,

feeds the awareness of the tinnitus.

So you're stuck in a classic vicious circle

of stress, anxiety and tinnitus.

I think maybe three or four times since I got the condition in 2005,

so over the last five years,

there's been four or five moments where I thought, "It's gone completely"

for a couple of seconds, and then it comes back again.

So no, it's always there but generally I can cope with it through the day.

Sometimes it gets to a point where it's all I can hear

and it is really quite annoying.

"Will it ever go away?" Maybe that's the wrong question.

"Will I ever learn to get to grips with this?"

"Will I get my quality of life back?"

And in the majority of people in the clinical tinnitus population

the answer is, "Yes, we can help with that."

What does seem to work for people with tinnitus

is clear, structured understanding,

so "Why has this happened to me and why is this having this impact upon me?"

And then the use of well-established evidence-based therapies

that seem to be of benefit.

This involves counselling,

or at least discussion of where the tinnitus is occurring,

why it has this impact, what the future holds.

Secondly, in some people, the use of sound,

either an environmental sound generator,

making the sound of the rain or the ocean,

or small devices that produce a white noise, a "Shh" noise,

to try and reduce the starkness of the tinnitus.

For some people formal cognitive behaviour therapy

seems to be helpful.

By no means necessary for everybody,

but a good evidence base again

for people being able to change their beliefs about tinnitus

and when they do that, to be able to habituate better to the tinnitus.

I think being positive is the only way to deal with it.

I'm that sort of person anyway,

but I think you've got to just get on with it,

you've got the condition for life now

and you have to do as much as you can,

like listening to music, keeping yourself busy,

tiring yourself out so you can get to sleep at night

so it doesn't get in the way of your life.

Go and see your GP and talk to them about it.

I wouldn't expect them to be full of knowledge about tinnitus,

many of them won't have had it covered in their training,

but they can be a gatekeeper for you

towards an interested and experienced clinical opinion

from an ear, nose and throat doctor or from an audiologist,

who will be able to work with you to understand why you have it,

why it's bothersome and what you can do about it.


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