Tinnitus: what it is and how to treat it

The rhythmic call of cicadas is a welcome sound of summer for many Australians, signalling long hot days and balmy nights.

But what if you experienced a similar sound ringing in your ears day and night all year ’round? For many tinnitus sufferers, this is exactly what they experience, and the condition can have devastating effects on the quality of their daily lives.

How common is tinnitus?

Research suggests that 30 per cent of the population suffers from tinnitus, with 15 per cent suffering constant annoyance as a result of the condition and one per cent reporting severe symptoms that affect the quality of their lives.

What causes tinnitus?

There is no one trigger for tinnitus, and each sufferer’s symptoms are different. Some experience a constant ringing in their ears while others might have sporadic bouts of tinnitus.

In fact, according to Principal Audiologist at Australian Hearing Janette Thorburn, everyone can experience tinnitus at some stage.

It’s a normal background sound that is in our ears, but what happens is that sufferers find that the tinnitus becomes really loud and constant to the point where some sufferers are really quite upset by it.

Janette Thorburn, Principal Audiologist at Australian Hearing

And while there is no cure for tinnitus, the condition is manageable with a few lifestyle changes.

Top tips for tinnitus sufferers

  • Find out about tinnitus. This will reassure you that it’s not something nasty like a brain tumour.
  • Find the triggers. In many cases, identifying how you first became aware of tinnitus can help you understand it better and, in turn, makes the tinnitus less threatening.
  • Have your hearing checked. If there is evidence of hearing loss, get some kind of amplification such as a hearing aid.
  • Avoid complete quiet. Keeping your ears busy with some low-level background noise—such as the television or radio—can help your brain focus on those sounds rather than the ringing of the tinnitus.
  • Relieve the stress of tinnitus by trying to stay calm and relaxed. The relaxation response reduces the alertness state of the brain and, as the hearing system relaxes along with the rest of the body, tinnitus usually becomes less stressful.
  • Tinnitus often affects people when they go to sleep, so investigate ways to help you sleep better.

Avoid loud noises and wear something to protect your hearing from damage if you are going to be around loud music or machinery.

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