What Is Tinnitus? Causes And Symptoms

What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a medical condition typified by a hissing, buzzing or ringing sound produced inside the inner ear. The noises vary in pitch from person to person; they can be low or high frequency, intermittent or constant and can happen unilaterally (in one ear) and bilaterally (in two ears). Tinnitus can affect both sleep and concentration and it is estimated that approximately 15 % of the population have experienced it on some level.

Most of us have experienced 'phase change' which is a temporary buzzing in the ear after going to a concert with loud music or working in a noisy industrial environment. The ear ringing disappears after a few hours and most of us usually think nothing of it. However, those exposed to perpetual noise on a recurring basis are at risk of developing more long-term effects.

Tinnitus sufferers begin to notice they are missing obvious sounds like speech, doorbells or having to turn up the radio. Shortly after, they may begin to detect ringing or humming sounds at irregular intervals and initially in quieter settings, this later becomes a more constant sound.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Problems with tinnitus occur when the delicate hairs inside the inner ear become damaged and auditory cells send random electrical impulses to the brain which are translated into noise. This damage can occur as a result of age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) or through being exposed to loud and continuous noises, often in a workplace environment. This is commonly referred to as noise-induced deafness.

Where It Can Occur

Noise-induced deafness can be triggered in environments where some of the following equipment is used (amongst others):

  • Welding tools
  • Pneumatic drills
  • Jackhammers
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Lawn mowers

A report by Deafness Research UK has found that in 20 % of cases, tinnitus sufferers believe that working in a noisy workplace has given them the medical condition.

Treating tinnitus

In most cases of tinnitus there is no known cure. If you have the condition as a result of the build-up of ear wax then ear drops or ear irrigation are usually recommended. You should always seek medical attention if you have any symptoms as straining your hearing can exacerbate tinnitus.

Common treatments aim to handle the symptoms of tinnitus on a day-to-day basis and include the following:

Sound therapy

This involves filling quiet environments with indistinct repetitive sounds to detract attention away from the sound of tinnitus. Popular themes are natural sounds like rain drops or waves. Sound generators are electrical devices often placed on the bedside to aid tinnitus sufferers to sleep better.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

A popular treatment used for many conditions such as anxiety and depression. The notion of this therapy is based on the idea that people can change the focus of their behaviour through their thoughts.

Tinnitus counselling

A talking therapy usually administered by audiologists, it is designed to help suffers understand the condition and learn how to cope with the impact of tinnitus.

What you should do if you have any of the symptoms of tinnitus:

Contact a personal injury solicitor who will be able to assist you with a claim.

Contact your GP who will refer you to an Ear Noise and Throat Specialist for an audiogram to establish any damage. You will need a diagnosis in order to make a claim.

Begin a diary of when you are experiencing any of the symptoms as this will help you if you decide to make a claim against your employer.

Bear in mind that you will have 3 years from the date of discovery in which to make your claim for tinnitus.

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