The 21st Century is too loud – can someone turn down the volume
It is no wonder that tinnitus is on the increase, especially amongst younger people. Our ears are assailed daily by noise levels that they were not designed to cope with. It is often said that we have a stone-age body in a 21st Century world. Our ears are capable of picking up tiny sounds that were important for survival in the natural world, for example awareness of prey or predators some distance away.
But if you look at the chart below you can see that many every-day noises such as busy city-centre traffic or even a lawnmower can produce noise levels which, if you are exposed to for too long, can cause hearing damage or even tinnitus. If we take more extreme examples such as a rock concert or nightclub then you can see that hearing damage can occur very quickly. It will come as no surprise then to discover that many performers and disc jockeys suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus.
The chart shows noise levels measured in decibels (abbreviated dB) so here is a brief explanation for anyone unfamiliar with the terminology. The term actually comes from the name of the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, and the measurement has to take account of the huge variation in intensity of the range of sounds we can hear. So if we take a really quiet sound like a watch ticking or leaves rustling and compare with a loud jet like Concorde at takeoff, then the difference in the power of the sounds is about 1,000,000,000,000 times!
So on the decibel chart, 0dB is near total silence but 10dB is ten times more powerful and 20dB is 100 times more powerful, 30dB is 1000 times more powerful, and so on. A hairdryer at 80dB is one hundred times as loud as normal conversation at 60dB. A rock concert of 120dB is a million times as loud as normal conversation.
Any noise above 80dB can cause hearing loss and the loss is related to the power of the sound and the length of time you are exposed. It is no accident then that from February 2006, the new noise regulations lower threshold for the workplace, when ear protectors must be made available, is reduced from 85dB to 80dB. However, legislation will not apply to the music and entertainment industries until 2008 so avoid excessive noise if you are off to a rock concert and take earplugs with you. This particularly applies to existing tinnitus sufferers. Earplugs can improve the clarity of the sound in these conditions and make conversation easier.
Any exposure to noise above 140dB will cause immediate hearing damage.
Despite the risks, it is amazing what lengths some people will go to in order to create deafening sounds. The current fashion is to install stereo systems in cars with more amplification power than the Rolling Stones used to use to fill a stadium. The stereo is probably worth more than the car but we can predict with certainty that the owners will have hearing problems later in their lives.
Tinnitus may not have been headline news in the past. Action for Tinnitus Research, its supporters and the many millions of sufferers across UK and throughout the world, think it should be.
These pages aim to provide a useful resource to help you find out more about tinnitus. Should you wish to interview someone from our organisation, require help sourcing a case study or require any further information, please don’t hesitate in getting in touch with our media team.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the sensation of a sound in the ear or head not produced by an external source. The sound can be of any pitch or type, continuous or intermittent. Tinnitus sounds can take a variety of forms such as buzzing, ringing, whistling, hissing or a range of other sounds. For some people it can even sound like music or singing. Sometimes people only notice these sounds when it is very quiet, such as at night. Other people find that they are much louder and can intrude on everyday life. Sometimes tinnitus noise beats in time with your pulse – this is known as pulsatile tinnitus.
Once investigations have taken place to establish that tinnitus isn’t a symptom of any other condition, at present neither drugs nor surgery can cure or reduce tinnitus. Whilst tinnitus is rarely linked to any serious problem, unending loud noise in the head is often listed as the third worst of non-lethal medical conditions, after severe pain and total paralysis. Its common effects include insomnia, anxiety, stress, depression. Suicides are not unknown. It diminishes much social intercourse and wrecks careers or ambitions and for children it can badly interfere with normal education.
Facts and Figures
Research on tinnitus sufferers in the UK, undertaken by the MRC Institute of Hearing Research revealed that:
7% of adults (2.9 million) have seen their doctor about tinnitus
5% of adults (2 million) have tinnitus causing moderate or severe annoyance
5% of adults (2 million) have tinnitus causing sleep disturbance
1% of adults (400,000) have tinnitus that has severe effect on quality of life
0.5% of adults (200,000) have tinnitus causing a severe effect on ability to lead a normal life
Source: MRC Institute of Hearing Research (48,000 postal questionnaires, and 3,200 respondents in clinics (Source: RNID factsheet)
A survey of 554 NHS patients that have tinnitus, undertaken by Defeating Deafness revealed:
33% were not referred to a consultant by their GP
81% were not offered any written advice or information on tinnitus from their GP or consultant
79% were not offered a noise generator, and
81% were not offered counselling.
Action For Tinnitus Research (Charity Number 1078378) was formed in November 1999 with the support of many members of the tinnitus community and in response to a lack of well defined, co-ordinated and new scientific projects on tinnitus and related hearing disorders. The charity’s commits itself to the funding of scientific and medical research with the support of investigative communities worldwide; the dissemination of results to the general public and the provision of awareness and educative information for the long-term benefit of all stakeholders and particularly for people with tinnitus and their families.
What Causes Tinnitus? There are many different causes of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a symptom and not a disease. Tinnitus can be linked to exposure to loud noise, hearing loss, ear or head injuries, some diseases of the ear, ear infections or emotional stress. It can also be a side effect of medication or a combination of any of these things.
Can Tinnitus Be Treated? Although there is currently no definitive cure for tinnitus, it is occasionally possible to treat the underlying condition that may be causing it. For example, if a sufferer has an ear infection, antibiotics may help clear this up, which may in turn also improve the tinnitus. However, if the tinnitus carries on there is no drug or operation that will get rid of it but there is help available and there are ways to manage it. White noise generators can help mask tinnitus and a hearing specialist may also suggest a hearing aid or behavior therapy. Mental or environmental quietness makes tinnitus more obvious so it’s important to keep the mind occupied. It’s important to take time out to relax – as stress can impact on tinnitus, relaxation tapes and CD’s can help. Complementary therapies such as Hypnotherapy and Acupuncture may also provide relief.