MANY people experience irritating or persistent noises from time to time – in fact 10% of adults in the UK suffer with tinnitus (a ringing, hissing or buzzing in the ear).
However, others experience another low-frequency sound, which is commonly referred to as The Hum. It is thought around 4% of the world’s population experience The Hum, but it is little understood .
Here, Gordon Harrison, Specsavers chief audiologist, explains more about the phenomenon, and what can be done to help.
What can cause a persistent humming noise in our ears?
Gordon says: ‘This is always an interesting question, but it can never be put down to just one answer.
‘Of course, there can be a background electrical hum from certain devices such as fridges and older TVs, but usually they will only be heard when you are in the vicinity of the device. Most people will habituate to them as they are generally not interesting and not threatening.
‘However, if you are put in an anechoic chamber (a room designed to completely absorb reflections of either sounds or electromagnetic waves) many people report hearing a hum from their ears which is different to a more traditional sound . The ears can generate sounds of their own, known as otoacoustic emission , that can be measured – although you would not expect people to hear these sounds in normal life.’
Gordon adds: ‘Some people do also tune into specific sounds. This is usually linked to their fight or flight reflex where once a sound is noticed an explanation is sought. If this does not happen, in some instances the person will get more anxious or concerned and the body’s endorphin response can increase stress levels.’
What is the best thing to do?
Gordon says: ‘If you also feel you cannot hear well, the first and most obvious thing to do is to get a hearing assessment where you can discuss your hearing needs and experiences with an audiologist, otherwise speak to your GP. After the test your audiologist will be able to give you specific individual advice to meet your hearing needs.
‘Similar to tinnitus, people who hear ‘the hum’ can find that sound therapy such as using background noise can help to reduce the perceived affect. Relaxation techniques and CBT can also be beneficial too.’