Tinnitus All articles and news relating to tinnitus, tinnitus treatment & stress management.
By Rosie Williams
On 29, Nov 2017 | In Tinnitus | By Rosie Williams
This guidance has been put together by the British Tinnitus Association to support GP’s who see tinnitus patients, to help them ensure that their patients get the best possible audiological care right from the outset.
Tinnitus red flags
Firm indications that a patient with tinnitus should be referred onwards include:
- Pulsatile tinnitus
- Tinnitus in association with significant vertigo
- Unilateral tinnitus
- Tinnitus in association with asymmetric hearing loss
- Tinnitus causing psychological distress
- Tinnitus in association with significant neurological symptoms and/or signs
Although many tinnitus patients do not fit into any of these imperative categories, clinicians involved in tinnitus care are firmly of the opinion that all patients with the symptom should at the very least receive an audiological assessment. Local factors will determine whether this is undertaken in primary or secondary care.
At any point in time around 10% of the population experience tinnitus
Both sexes are equally affected and although tinnitus is more common in the elderly it can occur at any age, including childhood. The perceived sound can have virtually any quality – ringing, whistling and buzzing are common – but more complex sounds can also be described.
Most tinnitus is mild
In fact it is relatively rare for it to develop into a chronic problem of life-altering severity. The natural history of tinnitus in most patients is of an acute phase of distress when the problem begins, followed by improvement over time. But for a minority of patients the distress is ongoing and very significant, and they will require specialist support.
Underlying pathology is rare, but be vigilant
In many cases tinnitus is due to heightened awareness of spontaneous electrical activity in the auditory system that is normally not perceived. It can however be a symptom of treatable and significant otological pathology, such as a vestibular schwannoma or otosclerosis.
Tinnitus can be associated with a blocked sensation
For reasons that are not clear tinnitus and sensorineural hearing loss can give rise to a blocked feeling in the ears despite normal middle ear pressure and eardrum mobility. Otoscopy and, if available, tympanometry can exclude Eustachian tube dysfunction. Decongestants and antibiotics are rarely helpful.
Giving a negative prognosis is actively harmful
It is all too common to hear that patients have been told nothing can be done about tinnitus. Such negative statements are not only unhelpful but also tend to focus the patient’s attention on their tinnitus and exacerbate the distress. A positive attitude is generally helpful and there are many constructive statements that can be made about tinnitus, such as “Most tinnitus lessens or disappears with time”; “most tinnitus is mild”; “tinnitus is not a precursor of hearing loss”.
There is no direct role for drugs
Although they can be used to treat associated symptoms such as vertigo, insomnia, anxiety or depression. There is also no conventional or complementary medication that has been shown to have specific tinnitus ameliorating qualities and there is anecdotal suggestion that repeatedly trying unsuccessful therapies worsens tinnitus.
Referral routes for tinnitus patients
Referral routes vary and depend on local protocols and commissioning, but in the majority of cases referrals are directed to ENT or audiology services. Common sense dictates that when there are possibilities of self-harm or of psychological crisis, then urgent mental health support is indicated.
Tinnitus is more common in people with hearing loss
Tinnitus prevalence is greater amongst people with hearing impairment but the severity of the tinnitus correlates poorly with the degree of hearing loss. It is also quite possible to have tinnitus with a completely normal pure tone audiogram.
Hearing aids are helpful if there is associated hearing loss
Straining to listen can allow tinnitus to emerge or, if already present, to worsen. Correcting any hearing loss reduces listening effort and generally reduces the level of the tinnitus. Hearing aids are useful even if the hearing loss is relatively mild and at a level where aids would not normally be considered. Some modern hearing aids have sound therapy devices incorporated within the aid specifically for tinnitus patients. Department of Health guidelines have emphasised the value of audiometry in a tinnitus consultation, and this is the definitive basis for decisions about hearing aid candidacy. If in doubt, refer for an audiological opinion. In our view, all people who describe tinnitus deserve an audiological assessment. Decisions on when to start using a hearing aid and what sort to use are up to the individual patient and audiologist.
Avoiding silence is helpful
Having continuous, low level, unobtrusive sound in the background can reduce the starkness of tinnitus. Sounds can be quiet, uneventful music, a fan or an indoor water feature. Alternatively, there are inexpensive devices that produce environmental sounds, these are particularly useful at bedtime. There are a range of these available to buy from Cubex or the BTA.
Self-help is often effective
The BTA provides comprehensive information on tinnitus and common sense advice on managing symptoms. It also has a network of tinnitus support groups around the country. It runs a freephone telephone helpline 0800 018 0527 as well as offering advice through its website tinnitus.org.uk. The BTA has also produced a new online resource aimed specifically at patients who have recently developed tinnitus and want some simple, clear information and advice: Take on Tinnitus takeontinnitus.co.uk includes facts, tips, exercises and videos which give patients ideas for self-management.
The BTA know from the calls they receive, that when early help is given by GPs and secondary services, patients manage their tinnitus more effectively.
Cubex provide a number of guides about managing tinnitus which our patients have found particularly helpful, as well as providing ongoing audiological care for patients.
- Tinnitus and it’s causes explained
- Tailored tinnitus treatments and care
- Listen: what does tinnitus sound like?
- Pulsatile tinnitus causes and treatments
- Sound therapy to relieve tinnitus
- Meditation tips for beginners
British Tinnitus Association Ground Floor, Unit 5, Acorn Business Park Woodseats Close, Sheffield S8 0TB Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Helpline: 0800 018 0527 Website: tinnitus.org.uk