What’s that high-pitched whine?

I’m a bit deaf, particularly in one ear. I have trouble hearing high-pitched noises – such as the fridge when I leave the door partially open – and I’m not great at hearing conversations in crowded rooms. But I’m getting better at lip-reading. And I have tinnitus.

It’s Hearing Awareness Week, so I thought it a good time to do some research on tinnitus to see if there have been any developments in the area.

For me, tinnitus is a constant high-pitched whine. It started when I was in my mid-50s and was initially alarming. I went to an ENT specialist who told me I had tinnitus – great – and said it was easy to fix – just give up salt, coffee, chocolate and alcohol. My response was, ‘Thanks – it’s no longer worrying me as much.’ My research informs me that there is still no cure but that certain treatments can ‘lessen the symptoms’. I’d love to hear them (joke intended) because none has made a dent so far.

It was an issue for a while, though – made me feel panicky – so I took up yoga in a bid to learn to cope with the constant noise. That has certainly helped.

The Australian Hearing website says that about 30 per cent of Australians will experience tinnitus and 15 per cent will have constant symptoms.

Triggers can include age-related hearing loss, exposure to loud noise and earwax blockage. There are actually two kinds of tinnitus. Subjective tinnitus involves sounds only you can hear and can be caused by loud noises, an ear infection, medication or head injury. Objective tinnitus can be heard by a professional using a special listening device, and is usually caused by irregularities in the blood flow or cardiovascular system.

What can I do? Apart from give up coffee, chocolate, salt and alcohol?

Australian Hearing offers these tips.

Identify the triggers. Pinpointing when you first became aware of it can help you understand what causes it so you can avoid contributing factors.

Avoid silence. Keep your ears busy with background noise such the TV or radio, to help distract your brain from the tinnitus sounds.

Stay calm. Stress makes tinnitus worse, and can sometimes be the cause of tinnitus, so relaxing activities such as a massage, mediation or yoga can help.

Check medications. Some medications, such as antibiotics, antidepressants and arthritis medications, make tinnitus worse, so tell your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms.

Limit caffeine. This can temporarily worsen tinnitus symptoms so cut down on the coffee and tea.

Try technology. Tinnitus relief technology, such as the Neuromonics range of devices, will address the auditory and emotional causes contributing to tinnitus.

See an expert. A clinician can provide a structured rehabilitation to relieve tinnitus, while others find counselling an effective addition.

Sound therapy. The Sound Oasis Therapy System has, according to Hearing Australia, been clinically proven to help diminish tinnitus discomfort. It provides a relaxing atmosphere that helps you fall asleep and reduce anxiety.

If you have any other ideas to reduce the impact of tinnitus I’d love to hear them – while I can.

Related articles:
How to protect your hearing
Ageing: what’s normal, what’s not
Is your hearing loss preventable?

Written by Janelle Ward

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