Specialist in audiology, Sylvie Hébert explains what tinnitus, the buzzing, silences and whistles that make hard life for many Quebecers in her new book, Tinnitus. She demystifies these hearing disorders and wants more prevention to be done with young people to avoid irreversible damage when they are exposed to excessive noise.
Sylvie Hébert, full professor of audiology at the University of Montreal’s School of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, recalls that between 10 and 15% of the population suffers from tinnitus. “With the new lifestyle habits of young people who listen to loud music on portable devices, we can expect it to increase. This is not a rare phenomenon, “she warns in an interview.
To have tinnitus is to hear noises, sounds, buzzing, whistling in the ears or head without there being any sound outside. “There is no sound source that explains the buzzing sound we hear. It moves with us, and it is perceived by us only. The others do not notice. “
Some people are more at risk, given their exposure to noise, such as construction workers, the military, hunters and musicians. “The most predictive factor for tinnitus is hearing loss. With age, the likelihood increases of developing tinnitus. “
Until recently, the elderly were the main victims, but young people are creating hearing problems that did not exist before. “They have like old ears. “
It is to be expected that, in a few years, these young people will have “major and irreversible problems,” says the specialist. It develops over time and it’s not always visible immediately, except when someone is exposed to loud music, in a nightclub or bar, for example. When he goes out, he will have buzzing sounds and a temporary, temporary hearing loss, which will disappear a few hours later. But these are signs that damage is happening. “
“Before, we thought they were reversible, and that the hearing returned, but in recent years, researchers have shown that it does not come back entirely. It creates damage that is subtle, and that will develop over time. Hearing aids will help restore hearing a little, but it never comes back as clear as normal hearing. Once the cells are damaged in the inner ear, it never comes back and we have not yet found a way to regenerate them. “
Sylvie Hébert adds that tinnitus is a source of psychological distress for 1 to 2% of the population and these people need therapeutic support from audiologists. They are sometimes referred to psychologists.
“There is a mourning of silence to be made. For people with chronic tinnitus, this is the tragedy: the person says, “God, I will never hear the silence again.” It is a chronic condition. ”
Sylvie Hébert notes that the brain will eventually forget about tinnitus, but that the situation remains. She is expecting a resurgence of cases, with the COVID-19 crisis. “We know that stress and noise are two factors that independently influence the onset of tinnitus. The more people are exposed to intense stress, for example at work, the more likely they are to have tinnitus. Same thing for the noise. ”
- Sylvie Hébert is a full professor in audiology at the School of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at the University of Montreal.
- She has published pioneering studies on the psychoacoustic assessment and comorbidities of tinnitus, in particular on stress and psychological distress related to tinnitus.