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.
(Joice Kelly / unsplash)
Most people have experienced ringing in their ears at some point in time. Perhaps it was after that epic rock concert or a particularly nasty bout of the flu. As frustrating and annoying as this condition is, people who have never experienced the incessant, constant ringing endured by many with tinnitus may struggle to understand how distressing it can be or how it can interfere with daily interactions with others.
How Does Tinnitus Interfere With Daily Life?
We rely on our hearing to help us with many vital tasks on a daily basis. When that hearing is compromised, we can miss key pieces of information leading to frustrating and distressing situations in home, work, and social interactions. For many, the symptoms can lead to disturbances in nearly every aspect of their daily life.
Conversation- Tinnitus can be quite loud and may make it difficult to hear past the constant ringing to decipher what others are saying. People with tinnitus may find themselves leaning in to listen to conversations, attempting to read lips, and making guesses at words they missed based on the overall theme of the conversation. They may feel self-conscious or embarrassed about their condition. Rather than asking people to speak up or repeat themselves, they may withdraw from social situations that require them to converse with others.
Focus- For most individuals, a quiet room is the best place to read, write, prepare for work presentations, and perform other tasks requiring concentration. People generally find loud noises distracting and thus opt to go to the library to study or ask the children to go outside while they work.
For those with tinnitus, the constant, loud ringing in their ears can make it challenging to focus on anything other than the ringing. Missing important information such as project deadlines and jeopardizing employment status. Performance at work and school can suffer, leading to stress and anxiety.
Driving- Inability to focus can become especially dangerous behind the wheel of a car. The ringing can block other sounds during a tinnitus episode making it difficult to hear or focus on the visual and auditory cues we all use to make driving decisions. The longer it lasts, the more stressed out they feel. Extreme reactions may make it unsafe to drive anywhere, even to pre-arranged appointments.
Sleep- Have you ever laid down to sleep only to realize that the room was too loud or too quiet? We are creatures of habit, especially when it comes to sleep. A sudden change in your sleeping conditions, such as the addition of a ringing sound, can make it impossible to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Seven to eight hours of continuous sleep is ideal for helping us stay focused and alert. Sleep deprivation limits our ability to deal with stress, slows reaction times, lowers immune systems, causes irritability, and increases friction in interactions with others. Not only is it bad for our physical health, but it can make living with tinnitus more challenging.
Anxiety- The symptoms of tinnitus often feed off one another. While tinnitus can cause anxiety, the condition is compounded by other stresses, such as poor performance at work, sleep deprivation, and social isolation. When the symptoms are intense and seem to go on forever, individuals may experience panic attacks. Unfortunately, as stress and anxiety build, the tinnitus may also get worse. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Depression- Difficulty interacting socially, concentrating at work, and sleeping at night can lead many with tinnitus to choose a solitary life. This self-isolation, combined with negative outcomes from work and lack of social support, quickly leads to feelings of loneliness and despair. Patients have reported having suicidal ideation when they think their suffering will continue unabated.
While there are ways to alleviate symptoms of tinnitus for many individuals, it often takes time to see results. If you or a loved one is experiencing depression or anxiety as a result of tinnitus, you may need to seek help from a mental health professional.
Is There a Cure For Tinnitus?
Some doctors will tell a patient that tinnitus is permanent and they need to learn to live with it. However, for those with tinnitus as a result of hearing loss, symptoms can be mitigated in many cases. Some methods will work better than others based on individual physiology, but we encourage patients to seek alternative treatment for tinnitus to increase their quality of life.
- Tinnitus herbal treatments, including Ginkgo Biloba, have proven effective at lessening the intensity of episodes.
- Acupuncture has provided some tinnitus relief.
- Stress reduction will also reduce symptoms.
- Changes in diet, such as eliminating or reducing sodium, artificial sweeteners, and MSG intake.
- Many tinnitus patients also have insulin resistance due to the overconsumption of refined sugars. Sticking to a diet suitable for diabetics has shown excellent results.
While family and friends may struggle to understand the full impact of tinnitus on their loved ones, their support and encouragement can help lessen the disruptions to their life as they seek out traditional and alternative treatments for tinnitus to mitigate the symptoms.