BIHIMA members are supporting Tinnitus Awareness Week (6-12 Feb), helping to raise public and government perceptions about the fact that 6 million people in the UK suffer from tinnitus.

The condition is often described as “ringing in the ears” but in fact there can be a range of sounds and experiences. “Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing sounds in your ears or head but no external cause,” explains Gemma Twitchen, senior audiologist at Action on Hearing Loss. “The sounds vary, from a hiss, whistle, whirr, ring or buzz to segments of music. The pitch can be high or low and the duration can vary from a few seconds at a time to continuous noise.”

For many people, tinnitus can have a significant impact on their quality of life, affecting their concentration, causing insomnia and even depression. More information about the symptoms can be found on the NHS Choices website.

There are a number of causes of tinnitus, including prolonged exposure to loud sounds resulting in permanent internal damage, ear or head injuries, and ear diseases or infections. The condition can also be the result of emotional trauma and stress. BIHIMA member, Widex UK, has some useful information about some of the “everyday causes” of tinnitus, such as smoking and caffeine, and the lifestyle changes which could help. Our member Phonak UK also offers some useful distraction techniques – for indeed, many of the recommended treatments are therapeutic, using sound, relaxation or cognitive methods to provide relief.

However, one of the most common underlying factors in tinnitus is simply hearing loss itself. According to the British Tinnitus Association (BTA), “it is quite common for people to assume incorrectly that it is their tinnitus rather than their hearing loss that is causing hearing difficulties.”

This is where hearing technology can play a huge role in improving lives. The BTA points out the many studies which have “strongly suggested that for a significant number of people, hearing aids reduce the effect of tinnitus”, with bilateral hearing aids (one on each ear) shown to be more beneficial than using only one aid.

And, in the first ever GP guidance issued on tinnitus timed to coincide with Tinnitus Awareness Week, the BTA gives the following clear message to doctors about the importance of hearing technology in this area:

“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. In our view, all people who describe tinnitus deserve an audiological assessment.”

All our members offer hearing solutions which can radically help people with tinnitus – the Oticon ‘Tinnitus SoundSupport’ technology is just one example – and the aim of BIHIMA is to promote better access to these potentially life-changing products.

For more information, visit our members’ websites.