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What all new tinnitus sufferers should know

Updated: Mar 3

I'm an audiologist who runs a tinnitus support group, online and previously in person, and I work with clients who are in extreme distress with their tinnitus. I also have tinnitus myself and so do my husband and most of my family. This is what I want everyone to know when they experience tinnitus for the first time:

  1. You can think it big. It is not sound, it is a perception of sound, therefore the rules of sound don't apply to it. You can concentrate on it and make it louder. The reverse is also true, not concentrating on it makes it quieter, although it's quicker to 'think it big' than 'ignore it small'. Start today by not ever paying it any attention.

  2. Everyone has the same tinnitus. What differs is their triggers, the tone, how often they get spikes and how good they are at not attending to it. It is not that some people have bad tinnitus and some have mild tinnitus. People with 'mild' tinnitus can have a rough patch and immediately get unbearable tinnitus. People with constant tinnitus can ignore it very well if they are in the right mindset, and it won't bother them at all.

  3. Stress is the number one cause of spikes. By this I mean stress, anxiety and depression can make the signal seem louder than normal.

  4. Get a hearing check up. Especially if you have one-sided tinnitus or are hearing it in a heartbeat pattern.

  5. You can't cure tinnitus. You can help it, but the sooner you understand that it's a part of you, the sooner you will be able to distract yourself from it. Start today, and accept that you have it. Do not waste time looking for cures that do not exist, and don't spend money on them.

  6. Habituation is the way out of tinnitus distress. The only way in fact, at the moment. As soon as someone breaks out a cure, it will be front-page news, but until then there are only placebos, coincidences and money-making devices masquerading as treatments.

  7. Don't change your life because you have it. Don't give up things you enjoy just because you read somewhere that it can make it worse. A phobia about caffeine will likely just draw attention to it. On a day that might otherwise have been fine, the thought, "I can't have that because of my tinnitus" is just putting it front and centre in your mind.

Sound relaxers or sound therapy offer sounds for you to listen to, that aid you in taking your mind off the tinnitus signal, but they are not long-term fixes. Hearing aids provide sound and if you have a hearing loss they also seem to prevent the tinnitus popping up as often. It is easy to focus on tinnitus when you have a hearing loss because you aren't hearing the world around you.

Tinnitus doesn't have to rule you. It affects a huge proportion of people. Only a couple of percent will suffer badly, the rest will accept it and thereby deprive it of attention. This means it spends more time as a low-level background noise, only spiking and becoming noticeable at times of extreme stress.

It is possible for anyone, and I do mean anyone, to not suffer from their tinnitus, so please get in touch with me if you would like a crash course in habituation. However, from day one, if you see it as a background annoyance much like an aching knee, you will do very well. Maybe you will need to accept that it is not fair that you got it, but it has happened.

If you go on to have distress from your tinnitus, seek help. I specialise in a kind of unique brand of 'absolute truth-telling that can be fitted into one long lunch break', but there are alternatives such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness which have been proven to help.

I wish you all the best in your journey,

Sally Jackson BSc (Audiology), RHAD, MSHAA

Audiologist at Hearing and Tinnitus Care

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