At GP Care we deliver an Audiology (Adult Hearing) Assessment and Fitting Service in Bristol and South Gloucestershire. We provide hearing assessment and hearing aid fittings at convenient community clinic locations for NHS patients who are suffering from gradual hearing loss.
It is currently Tinnitus Awareness Week, 6th – 12th February. Our Lead Audiologist in Bristol, Parminder Munde, has a special interest in tinnitus following her previous role as an audiologist in hospital and the big part it played in her Master’s degree on Rehabilitative Audiology. Whilst the GP Care service is not currently commissioned to see patients with tinnitus, Parminder, runs regular bi-monthly Tinnitus support groups in the Bristol area with support from the British Tinnitus Association. Here she writes about the subject.
Tinnitus is an awareness of sound in the ears or head when there is no external sound present. It can be heard in one ear or both ears and may present itself as ringing, buzzing, hissing, humming, whistling, clicking or roaring. In rare cases it can be heard as music sounds or songs instead of usual sounds. Tinnitus sounds can range from low to high pitches and can be continuous or come and go. There is a lot of on-going research worldwide but tinnitus is not yet fully understood and there is no single drug that is effective in treating tinnitus. What we do know at present is that tinnitus is a symptom of a change within the brain and inner ear or cochlea.
For some people tinnitus can develop suddenly whilst for others it can build up gradually. Tinnitus is not an illness in itself but a symptom that can be the result of many different underlying conditions. The most common causes are:
- age related hearing loss;
- high levels of noise exposure;
- head and neck trauma;
- side effects of certain medications;
- ear infections.
If you think you have tinnitus then you should make an appointment with your GP in the first instance. Your GP will refer you to an audiology clinic to have your hearing checked and some people may require an ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat) referral for further tests as there may be a treatable medical cause. Antibiotics can help in case of an ear infection and the removal of ear wax from a blocked ear may also help to eliminate tinnitus symptoms. Minor surgery or medication may be helpful in the case of middle ear problems (conductive hearing loss) as it can improve the hearing and in turn may eliminate or reduce some cases of tinnitus. Some NHS hospitals have specialist tinnitus clinics to help you manage your tinnitus and also to have hearing aids fitted if required. In a small number of cases, tinnitus can be a sign of a serious medical disorder and your GP is the first point of contact to check against this possibility. Sometimes tinnitus can be the result of TMJ (tempo-mandibular joint problems), which is treatable. The muscles in the jaw and the middle ear are closely connected and spasm which can result the eardrum being pulled too tight and this can cause tinnitus. You should have this checked with your dentist.
Tinnitus can improve over time and most people do not go on to have persistent and bothersome tinnitus in the long term. Most people notice that their tinnitus becomes very loud when they are worried or feeling unwell which can increase stress and anxiety levels, further triggering a cycle of stress and worry. Try not to worry about your tinnitus as there are lots of things you can do to help such as learning to relax, avoiding complete silence, keeping active and healthy, seeking medical help, taking care of you hearing.
Your family or friends may find it difficult to understand your problem and it always helps to talk to somebody going through the same experience. There are a number of independent tinnitus support groups supported by the British Tinnitus Association around the UK and joining a tinnitus support group can be really helpful.
It can help you to:
- Meet people going through same situation and gain confidence;
- Learn new coping techniques from each other’s experiences;
- Gain support and help from other members;
- Learn new practical ways of dealing with stress;
- Understand that you are not the only one going through this situation;
- Make new friends.
As mentioned earlier, I run a bi-monthly, tinnitus support group in Bristol at Christ the King Church, Mautravers Close, Bradely Stoke, Bristol, BS32 8EE on the following dates:
- Saturday 25th March
- Saturday 27th May
- Saturday 29th July
- Saturday 30th September
- Saturday 25th November
If you would like to join the group or need further information, you can email me at email@example.com.
There is also lots of information regarding tinnitus and support groups across the country on the British Tinnitus Association website.