23:33 GMT, 9 July 2012
23:33 GMT, 9 July 2012
On a flight back from Switzerland three years ago, Jane Mellor was painfully aware of a high-pitched ringing sound in her ears.
‘It was a horrible harsh sound that set my teeth on edge,’ says Jane, 54, a biochemistry professor.
‘And there was no escaping it because it seemed to drill through my head.’
‘It was a horrible harsh sound that set my teeth on edge,’ said Jane Mellor of her tinnitus
Though she had occasionally heard ringing in her ears before, this was far more intense.
And it persisted for weeks, driving through her head so she couldn’t concentrate and struggled to get to sleep.
Like an estimated 10 per cent of Britons, Jane was suffering from tinnitus — a buzzing, ringing or whistling sound in the ears when there is no external source for it.
And 1 per cent of the population suffers from tinnitus that is so severe it seriously affects their quality of life, disturbing sleep and causing anxiety.
While experts don’t fully understand what causes it, exposure to loud music and noise can trigger tinnitus.
It’s also linked to age-related hearing loss, and is more common in older people.
Normally when we hear a sound, nerve cells in the brain fire in response.
Studies of brainwaves in tinnitus patients show that these groups of nerve cells fire even when there is no external sound.
Age-related tinnitus is thought to be the result of our losing the ability to hear higher frequencies.
As a result, the brain starts to compensate, producing phantom sounds that correspond to the pitches we can no longer hear.
‘It’s a little like phantom limb pain,’ says Mark Williams, principal scientific audiologist at the Tinnitus Clinic in London.
‘I can concentrate and sleep properly again,’ said Jane
‘Because there’s reduced stimulation to the brain due to hearing loss, the system starts to become hyperactive and produces impulses, which are interpreted as the tinnitus sounds.’
This is borne out by Jane’s experience: the tinnitus is worse in her right ear, which has reduced hearing levels.
‘I was a typical Seventies teenager who liked loud music, which may be partly to blame,’ she says.
Unfortunately, there is no single effective treatment for tinnitus.
Once diagnosed, Jane was seen by a specialist who recommended relaxation exercises and music.
tried distraction techniques, too, such as opening a window at work so
gentle background sounds would take her mind off the sound.
Jane also bought special speakers to put in her pillow that played white noise to override the screaming noise in her head.
‘But nothing stopped it completely,’ she says.
‘And as I became more sleep deprived, I’d get irritable with my three children and with Fintan, my husband.
‘And I worried that the quality of my work was suffering.’
Researchers have previously tried treating tinnitus using electrodes implanted in the brain.
These emit an electrical impulse to stimulate the nerve cells and break up the abnormal firing pattern, but results have been mixed.
Jane did some research of her own, and last summer read about a new treatment, Acoustic Co-ordinated RESET neuromodulation, which had been developed in Germany.
After a hearing test to establish the pitch of the patient’s tinnitus, they then wear a portable neuromodulation device (a bit like an MP3 player) to listen to a series of chimes just above and below their tinnitus frequency for between four and six hours a day.
The theory is that this retrains nerve cells in the brain so they stop firing.
At £4,500 for a six-month treatment, it is by no means cheap — but in the study Jane found, published in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, it benefited seven in ten patients, who reported a ‘significant and clinically relevant decrease’ in tinnitus loudness and annoyance within 12 weeks, compared with patients who received a placebo.
‘Yes, it is a lot of money, but I was desperate for some sort of relief,’ says Jane.
‘There is a lot of quackery surrounding a condition such as tinnitus, but this treatment is scientifically validated and it was this that attracted me to it.’
Studies by the maker found an average 50 per cent reduction in their tinnitus, which continues after treatment ends.
First, Jane underwent a 90-minute assessment where she was played a series of sounds until she could identify the exact pitch of her tinnitus.
This information was programmed into the neuromodulation device she was given at the next visit.
After a hearing test to establish the pitch of the patient’s tinnitus, they then wear a portable neuromodulation device to listen to a series of chimes just above and below their tinnitus frequency for between four and six hours a day
The earphones attached to the device are special medical ones that do not completely block the patient’s ears, meaning they can still hear external everyday sounds.
‘When I first put them on, it was wonderful,’ says Jane.
‘It seemed to take the focus off the horrible tinnitus sound.’
She started wearing the special headphones for four to six hours a day at low levels while she worked, made phone calls and watched TV.
‘Even after I took the earphones out, the noise was less annoying,’ she says.
‘I can concentrate and sleep properly again.’
Follow-up tests showed her tinnitus was lowering in pitch — a sign that the device was working.
The Tinnitus Clinic has commissioned a six-month clinical trial to run at the National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing in Nottingham and University College Hospital, London.
Most sound therapy devices are called maskers because the stimulation they provide covers up tinnitus while they are worn,’ says Dr Derek Hoare, who is overseeing the trial and is vice-chair of the British Tinnitus Association’s professional advisory committee.
‘The neuromodulation device is interesting as the manufacturers explicitly propose it does not just mask, but interrupts tinnitus by resetting or retraining a particular form of brain activity commonly associated with tinnitus.’
Jane says: ‘The tinnitus is still there — but it’s less shrill, and I hope one day it will fade until it no longer bothers me.’
Dr Ralph Holme, head of biochemical research at Action on Hearing Loss, adds: ‘The demand for effective treatments to silence tinnitus is high and this is an interesting approach, but we need to wait for the results of larger studies before passing comment on whether this is an effective treatment or not.’
tinnitus.org.uk, 0800 018 0527
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Unfortunately I am in the one per cent category of tinnitus sufferers. I tried everything from Hopi candles to reflexology but nothing helped. I found wearing a masker just exacerbated the problem.In March 2011 I suffered a stroke brought on I believe by the stress I allowed my tinnitus to cause me. I was lucky in that I was able to get out of my house (fracturing a vertebra in the process!) crawling into the road where my neighbours found me and called an ambulance. I was given a new drug to burst the clot and my speech returned within 24 hours. I was determined after this to go with the tinnitus rather than fighting against it. Unfortunately a few weeks ago I contracted a virus which severely affected my hearing and introduced a new element to the tinnitus. I have received an injection of steroid drugs into my ear which does seem to have had a slightl calming effect on the distortion which is now apparent when I speak or am spoken to. This latest episode has driven me to the edge.
Tinnitus retraining therapy does work. I’m going through a bad bad patch just now the noise is terrible it’s called a tinnitus spike I only hope it goes down a bit as I cant sleep. I know this is expensive and might even be a rip off but I’m considering trying it at this stage after 3 years I’m desperate. I have to say though that most of the 3 years have been fine I coped. It’s just the last week it’s been a nightmare. Stress makes it worse.
..my tinnitus started in January. It is in one ear and is so loud I cannot sleep. Im tired and irritable all the time. My memory and concentration has been affected. The noise drives me mad. Ive tried all sorts of things to mask it. Sometimes when Ive have had a long exhausting day and just need to sleep but cant I get so desperate for it to stop that I want to rip my head off…it is awful…
I have suffered from tinnitus for years, now if I cannot sleep I put my earphones in and have the radio on very low so it masked the ringing and you just drift off….cost £3.99 for soft earphones…..
I have tinnitus due to a B12 deficiency that was undiagnosed for 5 1/2 years. I take daily injections of B12 for almost 5 months but so far it hasn’t helped the tinnitus and peripherial neuropathy although it has gotten rid of dozens of other symptoms. Healing can take up to a year but the longer you are undiagnosed the more likely your neurological symptoms are permanent. Check out the other symptoms of B12 deficiency at the Pernicious Anaemia Society website or Dr Chandy’s website.
I too have tinnitus, but luckily for me it is not that severe – I can forget it most of the time unless I am somewhere quiet or going to sleep, then I become aware of it.At bedtiime i find it’s best to have the TV on and that masks it so that I can get to sleep. The other thing that brings it to the fore is articles like this – I was fine until a minute ago! Thanks for the websire tip John, I’ll look it up.
I’m 14 and have tinnitus. I really hope they find a cure for people who like me develop it by sheer bad luck as I have never damaged my ears. This gives hope, but while more time passes me and millions of others still suffer.
Thanks for the audio notch tip !! The dm obviously got paid to write about it. This ripping people off who are desperate and the dm are willing to promote that whilst slagging bankers. Nice one dm
Mr Smith of Stourbridge, I think I love you! My tinnitus is nothing like as bad as the lady in the article suffered, but it is infuriating – it comes and goes and often as I’m trying to get to sleep. I’m fed up with trying to mend a fridge that’s not broken and doesn’t have its door left open, since that’s the noise of mine! I’ll be looking for that site this evening, thank you VERY much indeed.
This therapy is available cheaply as an online treatment. You match the pitch and it generates the mp3 for you to listen to. As your tinnitus quietens and changes pitch you can then go back online and re-tune.
Doing it this way costs under £100. Try searching for “audio notch” online and you will find the site. (Think it’s audionotch.com).
It would be helpful if the DM wrote about this and make it clear that the treatment doesn’t have to be just for the wealthy!
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