Tinnitus is not a disease in itself, but a sign of a chronic disorder, such as age-related hearing loss, hearing loss, or circulatory disorders. In many cases, it has been observed that when patients are under severe stress, their tinnitus increases sharply and the annoyance of tinnitus increases. Therefore, controlling stress, anxiety and even nervousness is one of the important things that a person with tinnitus should observe.
People around you may not understand what tinnitus is and how it might affect you, so might not be able to give you the type of support you need. It can be really helpful to talk to someone who has experience of tinnitus.
Meeting people who have been through the same things you are going through right now can be very helpful. There are Tinnitus Support Groups around the country. Not only can you pick up tips from others, but you can gain (and give) support simply by sharing your story with people who understand because they’ve been there themselves.
The BTA offers a confidential tinnitus helpline. You can call us for support, and we may also be able to point you in the right direction for local support groups.
It is quite common to feel anxious and afraid when you first experience tinnitus. By relaxing more, you may be able to feel less stressed and so notice your tinnitus less. Learning to relax is probably one of the most useful things you can do to help yourself.
A really easy way to relax is to find somewhere peaceful and just slow your breathing down (feel free to have some sound on in the background). You can take a few slow deep breaths and pay full attention to the feeling of the breath entering your body, filling your lungs and leaving your body. When we use deep breathing to relax, we feel calmer and more able to manage the tinnitus, and often don’t notice it as much!
Loss of hearing is often an unnoticeable and gradual process, and many people are surprised when they are told that they have a hearing loss. If you have hearing loss, using hearing aids can be helpful for tinnitus because they are restoring what you can’t otherwise hear.
Tinnitus is usually more noticeable in a quiet environment. It’s a bit like candles on a birthday cake in the lights, the candles aren’t very bright but if you turn the lights off, the candles seem much brighter. With tinnitus, when there is other sound, it doesn’t seem that loud, but when you turn all the other sound off, the tinnitus seems much more noticeable.
A lot of people have found that using background sound helps them this can be a radio, music, or using natural sounds. People are really good at figuring out ways of making things better for themselves and you might already be aware that you generally don’t notice the tinnitus as much when there is background noise. By using sound at other times, you’re just using other ways of doing what you already know to be helpful.
People who live with tinnitus might have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. In order to sleep well, our bodies and our minds need to be relaxed. Worrying about the tinnitus, or worrying about how much sleep you’re getting (or missing out on), is unhelpful and will only make it more difficult to sleep. Most people with tinnitus sleep well and their tinnitus is no different from those who do not sleep well. People who have tinnitus and sleep poorly tend to worry more at night than people with tinnitus who sleep well. Working through problems during waking hours is better than in the middle of the night when you have nothing else to occupy you.
It helps to make use of relaxation techniques to prepare the body for sleep. Once your body and mind are relaxed, sleep will come a bit easier. Having some soft sound in the bedroom can help some people with tinnitus sleep better. The type of sound you use is up to you as long as it is pleasant or neutral.
If you are referred to a specialist tinnitus clinic, and your tinnitus is particularly troublesome, you will be introduced to more formal or structured ways of managing tinnitus.
Most centers use a combination of approaches. You may come across some terms before, or hear them when you get there, and it helps to have some understanding of what these terms are.
This is one psychological approach that can be useful in managing tinnitus. The idea is that when you became aware of your tinnitus, you responded to it negatively. For example, you may have thought there was something seriously wrong with your hearing (a belief) and this led to you being anxious (an emotion), and you then tried to feel better, for example by avoiding silence (a behavior). Some beliefs and behaviors are helpful and that’s great keep doing them! But some beliefs and/or behaviors are unhelpful and CBT helps you to recognize them, and then you work together with the clinician (usually a psychologist, audiologist or hearing therapist) to find different ways of responding to the tinnitus so it becomes less bothersome.
This is a meditation technique that is used frequently for pain management, and more recently for tinnitus. The idea is that we tend to resist unpleasant sensations (hearing tinnitus). If we stop resisting and allow the unpleasant sensation, this alters our awareness to include more sensations. We start to notice that sensations become less dominant once our attention moves away from them and focuses on a different part of the body. All of this can change in a moment, simply by changing our awareness. If we use mindfulness effectively, we can create some space from the tinnitus and in that space, we can decide how we’re going to respond to it. It’s a wonderful way of achieving ‘peace and quiet’.
This is a very structured approach to managing tinnitus. Basically, TRT assumes that the tinnitus has been prioritized as an important signal. TRT uses sounds at a particular level to try to reduce the priority of the tinnitus so that you no longer hear it.
It is based on the idea that we can get used to sounds, e.g., the sound of the fridge or air conditioner, so we can also get used to this sound of tinnitus. The process of getting used to the tinnitus sound is called habituation.
TRT uses sound generators and counselling to attempt to retrain how the brain processes sound so that you habituate to the tinnitus. Most people working in the tinnitus field will use elements of TRT but the strict method is not frequently used because there is limited evidence for its effectiveness.
Frequent, prolonged exposure to loud noise increases the risk of getting tinnitus, or of making it worse, so take care to avoid very loud sounds, or protect your ears against them. Wear proper ear protectors (not cotton wool) when hammering metal, using power tools or when you are near any noisy motors.
Ear protection is also important if you watch live music or play in a band or orchestra. Ear protection should not be used if ordinary, everyday sounds are uncomfortable (this may be hyperacusis or oversensitivity to sound). If earplugs are worn for blocking out such sounds, it can actually make hyperacusis worse.
Having information about tinnitus can be very helpful. A lot of people start off looking online and while there is some fantastic information available on the internet, there is also a lot of very unhelpful information.
An easy way to ensure what you are reading is appropriately written and produced is to check that the Information Standard has been adhered to all our information complies with the Information Standard.