Explainer: what is tinnitus, who gets it, and are there tricks to help relieve it

More than 7 million people in the UK suffer from ongoing tinnitus, sounds or ringing in the ears. And with winter colds affecting many, short term issues may be affecting many more, writes Edinburgh hearing specialist Stephen Fairfield.

More than 7 million people in the UK suffer from tinnitus according to an Edinburgh audiologist
More than 7 million people in the UK suffer from tinnitus according to an Edinburgh audiologist

The common cold often brings with it more than just the sniffles. As if a blocked nose and sore throat weren’t bad enough, some people find their ears affected.

Stephen, who runs a hearing clinic in Edinburgh, says stuffy heads feeling full of cotton wool, balance problems, muffled hearing and tinnitus can really add a layer of misery to a simple cold.

What is tinnitus?

According to Stephen the common cold can exacerbate problems.

Is the name for sounds we here that aren’t actual noises in the outside world. Ringing, buzzing, whining, whooshing, clicking, humming or whistling, the noises are there permanently for some people, blocking out other sounds and making sleep difficult, or intermittent, caused by a temporary issue.

Why does a cold make tinnitus worse?

Any sinus infection puts pressure on your ears, which in turn can make existing tinnitus worse, or make it appear for the very first time. If you are lucky, the symptoms will vanish as soon as the cold goes, though for some unlucky people the sensations linger.

How can we help ourselves?

First of all, like with any cold follow common-sense guidance, and take lots of fluids, stay warm and speak to a pharmacist about whether painkillers or decongestants are necessary for you.

You might need to accept that your body needs time to heal and recover. Whether that’s working from home in comfy clothes with lots of rest and fluids, or taking proper time off with a box set or a book, you need to ride out the cold. Sleep, or at least rest, when you can.

For the tinnitus part, it is natural to be frustrated, annoyed or worried by new sounds. Remember, if simply brought on by a cold it should ease off as other symptoms ease off.

Expect the tinnitus to be distracting – you mind find that the noises in your ears interrupt your usual working methods, and that you cannot concentrate on what needs to be done. Leave plenty of time for any job you tackle, and take frequent breaks.

People whose tinnitus has lasted longer have found other ways to cope. Some find yoga or meditation helps, cutting down on caffeine generally helps improve sleep, so that may help if nodding off is tricky.

Try to avoid loud, noisy situations or stress, and speak to others who have the condition … joining self-help groups can give comfort that you are not alone, or handy tips for when you feel you have tried everything.

“I would never recommend sitting in silence if you have tinnitus,” Stephen added, “as after a while it is all you hear and it becomes really distracting and overwhelming. Have some soft music playing, or an audio book, even when you try to fall asleep, to help lessen the impact.”

If you have issues with tinnitus, or any other hearing condition, Stephen’s Edinburgh clinic can help. Find out more at https://fairfieldhearing.earsure.health