We need to talk about tinnitus
Updated: Jan 25
Ringing, hissing, sizzling, buzzing, whooshing, white noise - imagine hearing these sounds continuously. Imagine them becoming louder and more intense when your surroundings are quiet. If you have tinnitus, you’ll know exactly what I’m describing. If you don’t have tinnitus, or haven’t heard of it, they’re the symptoms that those living with the condition can experience often, daily, or continuously without relief.
Tinnitus is when you hear sound that doesn’t come from an external source in one ear, both ears, or in your head. It can manifest as a single sound or two or more. And it may be low, medium or high-pitched.
What causes it?
In short, we’re not sure, and research is ongoing. What we do know is that most cases of tinnitus are linked to hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear, through normal ageing or exposure to loud noise. Many people have tinnitus for a short time, for example, after listening to loud music or when they have a cold. But around one in ten adults in the UK have tinnitus all the time or frequently. That’s around 6 million people.
Can it be cured?
Unfortunately, there’s no known cure for tinnitus. But there are different therapies and self-help techniques that can help manage symptoms so that you're not aware of it all the time or distressed by it. This includes talking therapy, relaxation exercises, and sound therapy. Sound therapy uses a range of quiet, natural sounds, such as birdsong and falling raindrops, to create a peaceful atmosphere and distract you from your tinnitus.
Tinnitus Week 2020: Research
While awareness of tinnitus is low in general comparison to other health conditions, there are associations and initiatives to improve this. For example, this year’s Tinnitus Week - pioneered by the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) - is 3rd-9th February, with the theme being research. According to the BTA, the issue they’re facing is that tinnitus research isn’t high on people’s agenda. So, during this week they’ll be campaigning to raise awareness among MPs, encouraging people who live with tinnitus to highlight to their MPs that more help and support for the condition is needed. And we couldn’t agree more.
So why are we talking about tinnitus?
Well, it’s a condition that effects around one in four adults, yet awareness and discussion is comparatively low. And as more and more young people are feeling the effects of tinnitus, low awareness is clearly a problem.
Paul Breckell, Chief Executive at charity Action on Hearing Loss, says: ‘Worryingly some our research showed that over half (53.4%) of people aged 18 to 24 had experienced tinnitus, with 40% of people unaware that being exposed to loud noise can lead to permanent tinnitus.’
Gemma Twitchen, Senior Audiologist at Action on Hearing Loss, explains: ‘Listening to loud music on a night out or from your personal music player can affect your hair cells, a bit like the way a fresh patch of grass is affected by someone trampling over it. After a few times the grass will stand upright and tall. However, over time if people continue to trample over it, it will become flat. This is similar to what happens to your hair cells – continued exposure can permanently damage your hearing and lead to tinnitus which could mean that listening to music, which so many young people love, becomes less enjoyable.’
The problem is, the potential impact of listening to loud music though earphones, or at festivals and concerts clearly isn’t communicated well enough. And even if the information was there, how much attention would young people really give it? Hearing issues seem reserved for older people. Something they don’t need to worry about right now. Plus, not going to concerts and gigs, or listening to music loud in earphones are non-negotiable for many young music lovers. With this in mind, a challenge to find a way to raise awareness of tinnitus to younger people presents itself. And the 1mLives team is ready and raring to take on that challenge.
What are we planning to do?
Well, you’ll have to wait and see. But with music being both a potential cause of, and solution to managing tinnitus, we can reveal that music is an area we’ll be exploring.
Keep a look out for our next instalment as we work to raise awareness of tinnitus in young people.