Three out of five young people are at risk of permanent hearing loss because they are listening to “dangerously loud”2 music.
And up to 60 per cent are in danger of developing tinnitus - noises in the head or ears - because of this trend, warns Jennifer Healy, tinnitus awareness therapist with Deafhear.ie West which is located at St Francis Street.
Her comments are based on the preliminary findings of a national study being carried out by the charity which provides specialist services to deaf and hard of hearing people.
There has been an increase in the number of young people seeking advice for this common condition which affects one in 10 people, she says. About one per cent of sufferers have “troublesome” tinnitus.
“The perceived sound can have virtually any quality - ringing, whistling and buzzing are common - but more complex sounds can also be described,” explains Ms Healy. The natural history of tinnitus in most people is of an acute phase of distress when the problem begins, followed by improvement over time. But for a minority the distress is ongoing and they will require specialist support - tinnitus retraining therapy being one.”
The main causes of the condition are related to hearing disorders associated with ageing and exposure to loud noise. However, tinnitus can also develop following an emotional upset, illness, injury or infection which may not be related to the hearing mechanism. It can also appear as a reaction to or side effect of a drug. This can damage or overstimulate tiny hair cells in the inner ear, sending an irregular, unbalanced stream of nerve signals to the brain, which perceives it as tinnitus.
Ms Healy outlines that occasionally the cause is treatable, for example antibiotics can clear up an infection of the middle ear or wax can be removed from a blocked ear. But where there is permanent damage to the function of the inner ear hair cells, there is currently no wonder drug or operation which will immediately get rid of tinnitus.
There are however a number of ways to get significant relief from the condition and it is nearly always possible with appropriate treatment to reduce the distress it can cause. Family doctors can carry out initial examinations and then decide to refer you to an ear, nose and throat consultant who may then refer you for tinnitus retraining therapy. This involves demystifying the condition, cognitive retraining, advice on relaxation training and stress counselling and common sense guidelines on managing symptoms.
“Enriching the sound environment is helpful - useful sources of sound to reduce the starkness of tinnitus include quiet, uneventful music, a fan or a water feature,” she says. “There are inexpensive devices that produce environmental sounds and these are particularly useful at bedtime. They can be purchased directly from any Deafhear.ie office or online at www.deafhear.ie”.
She says our thoughts are “extremely important” in influencing how we feel. She recommends paying more attention to your thoughts and working out whether they are helpful or not.
“Work though these steps to try and uncover and tackle unhelpful thoughts about your tinnitus.
1. Become aware of particular situations /times when you are especially distressed by it.
2. Ask yourself “What went through my mind at the time?” and then write down the thought.
3. Use the following questions to evaluate these thoughts:
What tells you that the thought is true - what evidence supports the idea?
Is there anything that tells you it is not true - what evidence do you have against it?
What is the worst thing that could happen?
If a friend asked you for help about the same problem what would you say to them?
What would a friend say to me?
By doing this, you may be able to develop more helpful things to say to yourself about your tinnitus – for example reminding yourself that it is not dangerous and it is possible to still enjoy life with it. Changing the message you tell yourself about tinnitus can help to reduce its impact on your life.”
* The Irish Tinnitus Association, which is run by volunteers under the umbrella of Deafhear.ie, operates a tinnitus helpline. Telephone (01 ) 8723800 on Thursdays from 10am to noon or telephone (021 ) 4505944 on Wednesdays during the same hours.