By Barry Keate
Barry Keate, has lived with tinnitus over 40 years and has published 150+ research articles on numerous aspects of tinnitus. He is an expert on the condition and a well-known advocate for those with tinnitus.
Tinnitus is described as a whistle, buzz, hiss, ringing, roaring, or crackling sound in the patient’s head when there is no outside stimulus or sound. Reactions vary from mild annoyance to severe distress, and the person with tinnitus isn’t the only one to suffer. Family and friends often want to help but need to know how. This article explores some options to consider.
What is it Like to Have Tinnitus?
Imagine someone playing the piccolo in your room while you’re trying to sleep, following you around your house, whistling over your shoulder at work. It’s impossible to shut it down or adjust the volume.
The stress and anxiety this condition can cause only increase the tinnitus symptoms, which increases stress, causing a downward spiral that can lead to debilitating depression and suicidal ideation.
Sometimes people get used to the sound and learn to live with tinnitus. In moderate to severe cases, one can struggle to concentrate, sleep, or complete normal daily activities. Many go night after night with inadequate sleep. This insomnia can lead to gastrointestinal issues, headaches, lack of coordination, lack of concentration and mistakes at work or home, and anxiety.
People with insomnia are also more likely to self-medicate to find relief. Unfortunately, smoking, alcohol, some antidepressant medications, and even aspirin can worsen the problem.
What Treatments Can Help?
Tinnitus caused by stress should lessen when the pressure is eliminated or lowered to manageable levels. The same is true of some other underlying causes.
Tinnitus caused by hearing loss, on the other hand, is incurable at this time. Such news can be discouraging, but don’t lose hope. There are effective ways to mitigate symptoms, such as:
- Specially fitted hearing aids can help people distinguish individual sounds while muffling the tinnitus.
- Sound generators (listening to low-level background music or other sounds) can sometimes make the tinnitus less noticeable. For some, sound therapy can be a useful tool in adapting to life with tinnitus.
- Natural supplements for tinnitus include zinc, ginkgo biloba, vitamin b12, and deodorized garlic. These can help reduce feelings of stress and the intensity of tinnitus. When buying supplements, pay careful attention to the quality of the product. Not all ginkgo biloba supplements are the same.
- Ambient sound machines, fans, and soft music at night may improve sleep quality.
What Can I Do To Help?
Here are some tips to help you support your loved one:
Empathy– First, understand that people often minimize unseen illnesses. Invalidating the patient’s experience makes it harder for them to discuss their condition. Ask them about their symptoms, and learn about their situation. Ask them how you can best support them.
Distraction– Just like the tick of a clock, the sound of tinnitus seems to grow louder when you concentrate on it. Changing their focus from tinnitus to something they enjoy will lower their stress and decrease their symptoms.
If your loved one is hyper-focused on another activity, this can be a time for them to regroup.
Relaxation– Depending on the person, relaxation could mean yoga, repetitive movement exercises like walking, working with animals, biofeedback (the deliberate manipulation of your thoughts to control your body), or mindfulness meditation.
They can get a massage, swim, garden, listen to an audiobook, read, or watch a funny movie with closed captions to help them fill in the blanks if they miss words in the dialog.
These are great opportunities to connect with your loved one. They may open up to you in ways they can’t in a busier environment.
Patience– This situation can be difficult for everyone involved, but tolerance and a little adaptation will go a long way.
- Speak clearly and ensure you’re facing them, especially when giving them the information they need to remember.
- Recognize their limitations and be willing to repeat yourself or write a note without getting frustrated.
- Be aware when their fight or flight kicks in. Stopping anxiety at the onset is easier than in the middle of a full-blown panic attack.
- If your loved one is severely depressed, watch for signs of self-harm or suicidal tendencies. Get them to help if they need it.
Inclusion– Help them feel included in family gatherings and social situations so they don’t isolate themselves. It can feel very lonely to be surrounded by people and unable to make out what they are saying. If they’re not joining the conversation, they might not understand what’s happening and feel too embarrassed to say so.
Space– Sometimes, we all need time to process our challenges, especially right after a diagnosis. Even with the best treatments, it will take time for them to feel the full benefit. There isn’t a magic pill.
If they get irritable, sometimes letting them work it out independently is the best option, or that irritation may be redirected at you. If they stay in a dark place for too long and you grow concerned, talking to a professional may be the best option for them. They are grieving, after all.
Self-Care– Tinnitus can be the diagnosis or a symptom of a bigger health problem. If the level of care your loved one needs or your stress level exceeds your ability to cope healthily, it’s time for self-care. You may need to talk to someone about the stresses of being a caregiver. You cannot care for your loved one if you have nothing left to give.
The truth is a tinnitus diagnosis affects the entire family. It will require some adjustment. Have hope and allow yourselves time to adapt and learn to live your life again.