Sarah Stacey looks at this common – and distressing condition…
For the past five years, shoe designer Scott Wills, 39, has suffered from tinnitus. ‘It started on a plane. I turned to lie on my side and a very loud, high-pitched sound developed in my right ear. It has gone on ever since, now mostly in the middle of my head.’
Tinnitus (from the Latin for ringing) means the person hears a sound within one or both ears, or centrally, with no corresponding sound outside. As well as ringing, frequent sufferers may hear buzzing, hissing, whistling, humming or even distant voices. The sounds may vary in pitch, and come and go or be continuous. The British Tinnitus Association estimates ten per cent of adults have it mildly all the time, with one in ten of those reporting that it seriously affects their quality of life.
The causes of tinnitus range from swelling of the eustachian tube (which should keep ear pressure equal), glue ear or impacted wax to trauma from loud noises, jaw problems and bacterial or viral infections, which are also linked to vertigo. Many drugs, including aspirin and ibuprofen, can cause or worsen tinnitus.
Food sensitivities may affect the ear and block the eustachian tube, leading to tinnitus. Nutritional deficiencies, including zinc, iron and vitamin B12, may also be implicated.
Scott has had an MRI scan, then various hearing tests. ‘The doctors said the cause may have been too much fluid in my inner ear, but admitted that they don’t really know.’
While the mechanism of tinnitus is not clearly understood, high stress levels tend to make the condition worse. Sufferers who feel they’re not receiving help can develop anxiety or depression. ‘I was told by doctors that nothing could help,’ says Scott. ‘And I had this fear that it would get even worse and I wouldn’t be able to cope.’
Nutritional supplements have made a slight improvement and now cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy is helping him to feel ‘more positive – there is light at the end of the tunnel,’ he says.
Scott’s practitioner, Dorset-based Deborah Sims, ‘has helped me to understand how not to make the noise a priority – so it is starting to reduce,’ he reports.
Deborah explains that our complex auditory system filters the significance of different sounds, based on their perceived importance. If you are anxious about a sound, your stress levels increase and all your senses, including hearing, become heightened. For Scott, the fear of having an incurable condition promoted the sound until it was almost overwhelming. Diminishing the fear through various techniques has reduced the importance of the sound and thus Scott’s awareness of it.
When they meet, Scott and Deborah discuss how tinnitus is currently affecting him. They then talk about everyday strategies and have a hypnotherapy session to reinforce these. ‘I leave feeling relaxed with the tinnitus reduced,’ says Scott. ‘It’s great to find someone who understands this awful condition. Deborah has developed an excellent method for addressing it.’
• Tinnitus Awareness Week starts tomorrow, tinnitus.org.uk. For a qualified practitioner of cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy, visit www.general-hypnotherapy-register.com. To contact Deborah Sims, email email@example.com
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