Affecting 1 in 10 adults in the UK, tinnitus is a growing problem in our increasingly noisy world. We define it as the feeling of hearing sound even though there isn’t any around. It is mostly associated with hearing loss but can also appear on its own. It can be experienced as a buzzing, ringing, humming, or whistling sound in one or both ears. The most common factor that causes tinnitus is existing hearing loss. There may be problems in parts of the ear, with auditory nerves of even the auditory pathways in the brain. Usually the hearing loss stems from damage to the inner ear cells, which can cause distorted signals to be sent to the part of your brain that processes sound, causing tinnitus. Treatment for tinnitus usually involves going to an ear, nose and throat doctor who will assess hearing and offer advice on how to best manage it. They will also determine whether the tinnitus is symptomatic of a larger hearing loss problem. If so, they will advise further treatment.
Although it is a growing problem nationwide, tinnitus is developing fastest in young people. This is perhaps not surprising, as young people and teenagers are known for going to a lot of concerts, parties and festivals. These outings often involve listening to loud music for too long a period of time. One study in Belgium found that one in five teenagers experiences permanent ringing in the ears, and three out of four experience temporary tinnitus. Remarkably, only 5 percent protect themselves from loud noise with earplugs. This disregard for the danger of loud sounds is what has prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to write that 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults around the world are at risk of hearing loss from a toxic combination of unsafe earphone use, as well as a high level of exposure to loud sounds from nightlife, entertainment venues and sports events. They ran a study which found that almost half of young people ages 12-35 use smartphones at unsafe volume levels and 40 percent regularly spend time in bars and nightclubs where the sound often exceeds 100 decibels. Sounds at this level are safe to listen to for only 15 minutes. Dr Etienne Krug, WHO Director for the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention wrote that young people ‘should be aware that once you lose your hearing, it won’t come back. Taking simple preventive actions will allow people to continue to enjoy themselves without putting their hearing at risk.’ Many young people experience temporary tinnitus from a night out with their mates, but when they get into a habit of unsafe noise exposure, this can lead to permanent damage of the ear’s sensory cells. This leads to hearing loss, for which there is no known cure.
How can we prevent young people from developing tinnitus, and even worse, noise-induced hearing loss? Teenagers and young people would do well to limit the volume on their smartphones when listening to music or podcasts. There are ways to artificially limit the volume on smartphones just in case they often max out the volume without thinking about it. Noise-cancelling headphones are another option. These headphones are a great option because they cancel the surrounding sound which makes it less likely that the person will raise the volume to drown out noise. Young people should also take noise breaks when out at bars and nightclubs, and use appropriate hearing protection on the dancefloor. The Action on Hearing Loss charity launched a campaign last Christmas to urge young people to wear earplugs to minimise their risk of tinnitus over the festive period. This is great advice but it should be followed year-round. Gemma Twitchen, the audiologist who works with the aforementioned charity, was quick to dispel a common myth about earplugs: “There is a misconception that if you wear earplugs you can’t hear or enjoy the music, but this is simply not true. Earplugs will block out the dangerous sound frequencies, still allowing you to listen to the music and enjoy it.” Finally, it would help for young people to get regular hearing checks and remain vigilant about protecting their hearing health, so that they may enjoy many more years of music in the future.
If you think your hearing may have been damaged due to noise exposure, a comprehensive hearing exam is the best place to start. If hearing loss is found to be present, our expert team will work with you to find the best treatment options. We also offer a wide range of products to help you protect your hearing, now and in the future. Schedule your hearing evaluation today!