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GPs urged to address tinnitus ‘knowledge gap’

tinnitus

You may know about tinnitus – it’s an often debilitating condition that is described as a sensation or awareness of sound that is not caused by a real external sound source. It’s usually a ringing, buzzing, whooshing or humming in the ears, which can be constant or it can come and go.

With around six million people experiencing tinnitus, it can have a huge impact on their quality of life, affecting people of any age.

According to research by the British Tinnitus Association (BTA), of the 53% of patients who were unhappy with the advice given by their GP, 92 per cent of them said their GP was ‘dismissive or unsympathetic, or ‘didn’t have enough knowledge’. This has prompted the BTA to release a new set of guidelines for GPs to help improve the treatment and support provided to tinnitus patients across the UK.

The survey asked 928 people with tinnitus about their experiences, revealing that of those referred to ENT or audiology, 88 per cent had to wait up to four months for an appointment.

In addition, 85 per cent were not offered any further support from their GP while they waited and just under half (48 per cent) said their tinnitus had a ‘moderate’ or ‘severe impact’ on their quality of life during this time.

David Stockdale, chief executive of the British Tinnitus Association, said: “There is a knowledge gap within the medical community about the impact tinnitus can have and many patients don’t feel listened to or supported enough. This is having an unnecessary impact on their quality of life and on the NHS as they make repeat visits to their GP.

“We’ve also been talking to GPs and they have been telling us that they want more support to help them provide tinnitus patients with the best possible care. Our new guidance has been designed with exactly this in mind providing them with practical advice, information and signposting to resources that are currently available.

We spoke to Clara Lilley, 22, from London about her experience after being diagnosed with Tinnitus. Clara was initially diagnosed in March 2015 while she was in her second year of university.

Clara

Her symptoms started a year earlier, after her housemate surprised her with a ticket to see 65daysofstatic at Koko, a particularly loud music venue in London. On her way back to her house, she started experiencing a ringing in her ears so loud she could barely hear her friend speaking to her.

This ringing never went away, continuing for months, prompting Clara to fear that the constant sound would never go away. One day while showering, she slipped and hit her head in the shower, then noticing the ringing sound was now much louder in one ear than the other. She says: “I knew at that point I couldn’t keep ignoring it and took the action to book myself a doctor’s appointment to see whether I’d done any serious damage. I was diagnosed with tinnitus officially in March 2015 after a year of audiologist appointments, MRIs and tests.”

Clara has always loved music, with her brother being in a band and going to hundreds of concerts and festivals. When she was 14, her mum let her go to her first gig at Rock City in Nottingham. However, she now reflects on the fact that she never protected her hearing at loud gigs for over 6 years. She would notice a ringing in her ears the morning after but it would be gone in a few hours, so never worried too much about it.

She adds: “The tinnitus itself doesn’t impact my life day to day, but it definitely has made my hearing more sensitive. I find myself lashing out at people who eat too loudly or who type on their keyboard loudly as these noises are more intrusive than they were. This means I struggle sometimes to be on the tube or in public settings without knowing I have my headphones or earplugs to put in if the sound becomes too much.

“Something that I have also noticed is that having spoken to my friends about it, they’ve shared similar stories about their hearing, and their tinnitus. Worryingly, it is very common with my friends, but I’m happy that people are talking about it more.”

clara-lilley_2

Clara has never had any treatment for tinnitus as luckily she has managed to habituate it. It hasn’t stopped her going to gigs, but she makes sure she always wears earplugs to protect her hearing so she can continue to do what she loves.

“It does get better! When the ringing or hissing or screeching doesn’t go away, it can be terrifying, especially knowing that it might never go away. However, it will get better. Your brain is a wonderful thing and if you get on with your life and continue to live as you did before, it will end up being in the background. If it doesn’t get better, that’s okay too!

“There are lots of things to test and try out – hearing aids, CBT, sound machines. Something will work for you.” she adds.

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  1. Pingback: GPs urged to address Tinnitus “Knowledge Gap” – TinnitusLife

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