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How we cope with tinnitus
IT was a condition many think sent van Gogh mad, and for thousands of sufferers, it can be a nightmare.
But while many would associate tinnitus with a constant ringing in the ears, according to Colchester consultant, Don McFerran, it can affect people in many ways. He says: “The perception of sound can be anything from ringing to humming and whistling. Some people can hear it as far-off whispering or speech.
“The current theory is tinnitus is a brain phenomenon. Either through noise damage or loss of hearing, it’s the brain searching for that external sound which has been lost.
“When it cannot find the sound, the brain finds the ‘internal junk mail’ and misconstrues that as sound.”
Mr McFerran is the co-writer of a new book, Living with Tinnitus and Hyperacusis, which aims to help people living with the conditions.
Tinnitus is the perception of noise in one ear, both ears or in the head, while hyperacusis is acute sensitivity to noise.
As Mr McFerran points out, many people with tinnitus also have hyperacusis and most people with significant hyperacusis also have tinnitus. However, it is possible to have one condition without the other.
He adds: “One in ten people has some awareness of tinnitus and there’s a one-in-three risk of getting it.
“Most have it at a mild level, but for about half a per cent of the population, tinnitus really affects their lives.
“Solutions are partly-based on sound therapy and common sense. But the aim of treatments for long-term tinnitus is to help people effectively manage their symptoms.”
For sufferer Nicole Oughton, the solution was audio books. The mother-of-two started getting a high-pitched screeching in her ears four years ago following a holiday abroad. She says: “My ears popped when the aeroplane landed and that was the trigger.’’ She discovered the condition was probably due to hearing loss caused by working in bars and clubs from the age of 18. When Nicole, 38, of William Harris Way, Colchester, went to hospital they told her there was no cure. However, after a consultation with a specialist, she started seeking ways to deal with the noise.
Nicole adds: “It’s worse when it’s quiet, especially when I’m trying to get to sleep. Then the noise is so loud. I tried music. But that just kept me awake, so I had a go with audio books.
“Not all of them work and it depends on the voice. But if you get the right one, it focuses the brain and can be very relaxing.”
Dr Sue Godwin’s tinnitus started when she was 30. “It was sudden,” she says. “I just got this very loud, high-pitched tone and it really frightened me.”
After visiting her doctor, Sue, 45, of Eight Ash Green, Colchester, was referred for a brain scan. It revealed nerve damage she believes was the result of sound abuse, possibly when she worked at a clay pigeon range.
She adds: “I didn’t wear any ear defenders, but the cause could have been a number of things.”
Unlike Nicole, Sue craved peace and quiet, as her tinnitus worsened with noise and stress. “I couldn’t be in a crowded room and it led to me withdrawing socially,” she says.
As her hearing worsened, chiropractor Sue tried different hearing aids. But it was only when another patient suggested a new aid that Sue’s life changed dramatically.
“I went to the Hearing Aid Centre in Colchester,” she explains, “and they provided me with this tiny thing that fits perfectly in the ear.
“It made a massive difference. I cannot feel it and for the first time I could hear the birds sing. It was wonderful.”
For more information, visit www.tinnitus.org.uk
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