Chances are you’ve heard of tinnitus. You may have even been diagnosed with tinnitus yourself or have a sneaking suspicion that you could be thanks to that constant buzzing, ringing or whooshing in the ears you’ve started to notice.
Tinnitus is so much more complicated than it may at first seem, though. It’s not just the ringing in the ears. It’s the emotional and mental distress that this diagnosis can have.
What is tinnitus?
One of the most common health conditions in the United States, tinnitus, is believed to affect roughly 15% of people. In other words, tens of millions of people just like you and me. Tinnitus is often related to or a symptom of other health conditions. It can be caused by:
- Noise exposure
- Hearing loss
- Associated medical conditions like high blood pressure
- Head injuries
There is no known cure for tinnitus. Hearing health professionals and researchers have made finding solutions for managing and curing it a top priority as we learn more about the startling mental and emotional effects of tinnitus.
The reality of tinnitus
For those living with tinnitus, the constant sensation of noise can have significant effects on health. It has been linked to anxiety and depression, and a recent article highlighted that it could even be linked to thoughts of self-harm. With this in mind, many experts are stressing the importance of a more thorough and human approach to treating those with tinnitus. One that considers not just the diagnosis but also the person living with that diagnosis.
“Audiologists should be aware that patients with tinnitus are potentially fragile emotionally, especially during the early months following onset of tinnitus,” advised Caroline J. Schmidt, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Yale Medicine in New Haven, CT. “The impact of tinnitus differs among people. Some people have no emotional response to it at all. Other people find it to be very distressing.”
It’s this understanding that has led many hearing health professionals to use a treatment approach that includes not only strategies for managing and minimizing the sound of tinnitus but also mental health strategies that help them cope with the diagnosis.
Managing tinnitus and its effects
While there is no cure, there are options for treating tinnitus such as:
- Hearing aids
- Sound therapy
- Relaxation Therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Acupuncture and Alternative Therapies
- Medication (in some cases this may be effective)
To support these treatment strategies, many experts now also coach individuals on mental health strategies such as these:
- Acceptance – Education and understanding that the tinnitus is really just a sound that happens to tap into our emotions can be an essential first step to managing the diagnosis.
- Shifting to the positive – It’s easy to fall into negative thoughts. Still, experts have found that changing the negative to more neutral (reality-based) or even positive thoughts can give patients power over their situation.
- Focus on sleep hygiene – Most people these days could benefit from sleep hygiene, but especially those with tinnitus. Avoiding electronics, alcohol, and caffeine before bed, following a relaxing bedtime routine including relaxation exercises or meditation, and even using white noise machines can all help with better sleep for a better next day.
- Keep doing what you love – Whether it’s music with friends, a favorite hobby, or volunteering in the community, don’t let tinnitus keep you from what you love. As with hearing loss, it’s common for those with tinnitus to seek solace in social isolation, but this can lead to anxiety and depression. Experts recommend staying in the game for mental and emotional benefits.
If you believe you have tinnitus, contact us to schedule a hearing evaluation. Strategies like these can help you manage your condition without sacrificing your emotional or mental health.