Typically referred to as a ‘ringing in the ears’, tinnitus is the sensation of hearing a noise when there is no external sound. What that noise is, can vary from person to person but can include ringing, whistling and buzzing. Sometimes the sound is continuous but sometimes it is sporadic.
But the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) is concerned that GP awareness and training of the condition is not sufficient, leading to inconsistent and inadequate advice being given to patients.
In a study part funded by the BTA, a third of patients said they were dissatisfied with the treatment they had received from their GPs, citing their doctors’ lack of knowledge and insensitivity to living with tinnitus. Only 37 per cent of tinnitus patients were referred for further assistance.
David Stockdale, chief executive of the BTA, said: “Thousands of tinnitus patients are being short-changed by their GPs. They are being either completely dismissed, told to ‘learn to live with’ the condition and are being given inaccurate information, or are not being referred to tinnitus clinics for specialist care.”
The BTA is encouraging audiology consultants to host seminars for GPs to tell them about the services available in their hospitals. Although there is currently no cure for tinnitus, there are different treatments and behavioural techniques that can help to alleviate the condition.
The precise cause of tinnitus is not known and can affect people of all ages, especially after being exposed to loud noise. Frequent and/or prolonged exposure to loud noise can damage the hearing system, which increases the risk of getting tinnitus or can make it worse in those already suffering from the condition.
Hearing loss, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and post-traumatic stress disorder are all factors that can increase the risk of experiencing tinnitus.
Advice on how to manage tinnitus includes strategies such as:
- Exercise - regular exercise boosts endorphins which improves your sense of well-being and lowers stress levels.
- Relaxation - stress exacerbates the experience of tinnitus so relaxing as much as possible helps; some specific techniques include acupuncture, homeopathy and reflexology.
- Music - listening to music can help as it distracts from the tinnitus noises, but avoid prolonged exposure to high-volume levels, which can make it worse.
- Diet - if you are healthier and fitter it can make you feel better when you experience tinnitus. Stick to soft drinks and herbal teas, and keep well hydrated.
- Products - sound therapy systems, mood lights, pillow speakers and relaxation CDs can all help.
- Support groups - join a tinnitus support group in your area.
- Family and friends - make sure your family and friends understand tinnitus; the more they know, the more they can help and support you.
- Expert help - The BTA’s freephone helpline 0800 018 0527 and website www.tinnitus.org.uk offers more advice and help