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Is it possible to cure tinnitus after 20 years?

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

I am a member of the happily habituated 98% of tinnitus sufferers, however that doesn't mean I love having tinnitus! For 20 or more years it has been constant.

When we talk about it being constant though, I mean constantly available. It is possible for me to spend hours every day not noticing it's there at all. During the recent Brighouse Tinnitus Support Group meeting, I made that reference - if a tree falls in the woods and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If you have constant tinnitus, but you don't always notice it's there, do you have constant tinnitus? It's one of those questions that it's difficult to understand when you're new in the tinnitus journey, when you can only focus on the T signal and cannot imagine going hours or a day in the future without noticing you weren't hearing it. It's a complicated condition.

Anyway, I describe my tinnitus as constantly available. If I think about tinnitus at any time,

it will become audible. Sometimes it is audible in the background, mingled with other noises in my soundscape. It's not bothersome, just there. Sometimes it is more prominent, and I actively have to distract my brain to prevent from latching on to it and making it bigger. But until last month, I would have told you that I've never gone more than a few hours without at least briefly noticing it, not in 20 years.

It was only after our recent holiday, when it came back with a bang on my return to work/home duties, that I noticed I hadn't heard it for a week. A week! Being near to the seashore helped; the white noise of the waves stimulates the inner ear at every frequency, making it easier for the T signal to be washed away. The second, and more important, factor was stress. I have a busy life with quite a lot of stressful elements like most people at my life stage. After the first day of the holiday I started to relax, then experienced pretty much zero stress until it was home time. No work, no chores to do, no cooking or cleaning.

This is a really important concept. It is possible, under the right circumstances, for you not to hear tinnitus, no matter how long you have had it and how bad it has been at times. The problem with tinnitus is that if you're a long-term sufferer, whenever you think about it you can hear it. And the more you listen to it, the more prominent it gets! You also only know you didn't have it when you get it back. That's how it works and why habituation is difficult for some - you have to believe it can happen before it will happen. And that's what makes the life of a tinnitus consultant so tricky, because you have to get each patient to find their way to believing this rather unlikely-seeming fact, while they are in the grip of a stressful event.

I'm afraid there are very few situations in our modern lives where you can be genuinely stress free and in perfect conditions for a whole week, but please be assured that it's more than possible to get to a stage where you can allow yourself to not hear the damn thing for a period of time.

For those who come to me saying they had it at a bearable level until [insert recent stressful event here] and now it's terrible, I can tell you that the tinnitus hasn't changed, it's your reception of it that has changed, and it is totally possible to get back where you were. So there may not be a cure, just like there's no cure for pain, but it can be absent and that's as good as a cure in my book.

It's frustrating for me to see people spending all day reading about tinnitus, and getting themselves worked up online, writing comments about how anything less than a total cure is meaningless. When we stop looking for a cure for tinnitus, that's when we heal ourselves.

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