A wasp buzzing; a whistling kettle; constant static on the radio. Imagine what it’s like to hear noises in your head. They are strident and intrusive and yet no one else can hear them. You have trouble sleeping at night, and during the day, you can’t concentrate on work.

This is the reality for some people living with tinnitus. Tinnitus is a very common condition, which can be very distressing for those that experience it. While there is no cure at the moment, there are a number of management techniques that can be used to reduce its impact.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is an awareness of sound in the head or ears where there is no corresponding external sound. This sound may be ringing, whistling, buzzing or be more complex. It is a very common condition – about one in eight adults in the UK are living with persistent tinnitus. Around 1.05 million GP consultations for tinnitus are held in the UK every year.

Who gets tinnitus?

Although tinnitus is more common in older people, it can occur at any age, including in childhood. Men and women are equally affected.

Tinnitus is more frequent in people with hearing loss, but the severity of the tinnitus does not depend on the severity of the hearing loss. It is quite possible to have tinnitus with normal hearing.

What are the causes of tinnitus?

The causes of tinnitus are still not fully understood, but it can be associated with:

Hearing loss | Exposure to loud noise | Stress and anxiety | Ear infections | Ear wax build up

What can be done about tinnitus?

For many people, tinnitus is distressing when the problem begins, but it improves over time. However, for some, tinnitus remains a chronic condition. We do not know why this is the case, and research is happening to investigate this.

We frequently hear that people with tinnitus have been told by their GPs that, “nothing can be done about tinnitus,” or, “you’ll just have to learn to live with it.” Feedback like this is unhelpful and untrue and can contribute to the distress felt by the patient.

Managing tinnitus is easier if help is given early

A positive attitude from medical professionals and accurate information and reassurance is generally helpful. Clinicians involved in tinnitus care are firmly of the opinion that all patients with tinnitus should, at the very least, receive an audiological assessment. Experience shows that when early help is given, patients manage their tinnitus more effectively.

Self-help for tinnitus is often useful. Information and resources such as the British Tinnitus Association’s helpline, information leaflets and website are available to give people the tools for self-management.

Other treatment options available include:

  • Counselling (such as CBT)
  • Correcting any hearing loss
  • Sound therapy
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Mindfulness meditation

Research into biomarkers and drugs to control tinnitus

There is an urgent need to look for and evaluate a drug for tinnitus. Biomarkers and objective measures of tinnitus have been identified as necessary by industry to move tinnitus research forwards. Both of these are vital areas for tinnitus research that need more attention. The British Tinnitus Association are driving forward research in this area to achieve their vision of a world where no one suffers from tinnitus.

Further information and support

More information about Tinnitus can be found on the NHS website. The British Tinnitus Assoication website provides information, support and advice. They also have a helpline and a network of support groups across the country.

*David Stockdale, Chief Executive of the BTA