It is an awful and distressing thing to observe a loved one suffer from tinnitus. It debilitates the sufferer and ultimately renders the observer powerless. Here we talk about the various ways in which we can support those we love to manage this ‘invisible’ condition.
The truth about tinnitus
The overwhelming truth is that tinnitus can feel very much like torture, as the never-ending ‘ringing’ in the ears slowly impacts on quality of life and can impart high levels of anxiety and depression on its sufferers. Due to not being able to rest from the inner-noise, sleep is limited and therefore the ability to focus on everyday life becomes impossible.
Tinnitus, as a health condition, is more common than people think – and a complex one at that. It affects roughly around 6 million people in the UK alone and this figure, sadly, is on the rise. With the unfortunate realization that most general practitioners (GP’s) have limited education on how to treat this condition – families are fast becoming the main support source for their loved ones. On a positive note, there are opportunities out there for relief and various ways in which family and friends can make a beneficial difference.
Like with most ‘invisible’ illnesses, living with tinnitus is a huge challenge – what you can’t see is hard to convince. You don’t look sick; therefore, you are healthy, right? But as the world begins to gain more of an insight into tinnitus, they are slowly learning to relate and more importantly understand.
There’s no rule of thumb here when it comes to tinnitus relief – but what support can we give?
Do your research
Like with anything – we fear what we don’t understand. Firstly, you must research the condition to gain a deeper understanding and to grab the opportunity to empathize. There is currently no cure for tinnitus, but by just ‘getting it’ can bridge the gap between powerlessness and making a difference. Being the person that understands can be the rock of support when the sufferer is within a difficult episode.
It is important to remember that tinnitus is not an easy journey and it may take time for the sufferer to accept initial help, as this condition brings out vulnerability and, at times, mistrust. Talk to them about their difficulties and when you find it hard to relate, ask them to make things more transparent if they can. The deeper your understanding the more genuine you will appear, and trust will grow.
Maintaining a sense of calm when you are observing your loved one suffer is perhaps the hardest thing about this illness. It can evoke anger and frustration, as you try to help support them on their journey. They will also feel anger and frustration as they are undeniably struggling with something they cannot control. This can bring out the worst in anyone no matter the struggle.
Rational thinking and conversing become harder and genuine concern can be met with bitterness. Trying to remain calm will diffuse challenging situations and ultimately become contagious. Remember that the difficulty will eventually pass.
Bring a sense of calm
Living with tinnitus means living with unsavory amounts of anxiety and stress. A constant and unpleasant circle of inner sound that can’t be irradiated, causing anxiety that, in turn, increases the severity of the tinnitus.
Offering relaxation techniques can help relieve their symptoms both mentally and physically. Motivate them to partake in a relaxing past time like massage, aromatherapy, listening to music, using breathing techniques, yoga and meditation. Acknowledging mental struggles is important and that is why a lot of tinnitus sufferers regularly practice yoga. A body that is more at ease and relaxed, ensures the mind follows suit.
Mask with sound & be the distraction
It may seem like a simple technique, but rather a successful aid to help sufferers cope. In challenging moments distracting symptoms with background noise offers short term relief. However, sometimes if the sufferer has additional hearing loss and the tinnitus is at a high level, this may not work. But when it is successful it can be an effective go-to method.
Sounds of nature, white noise, podcasts, radio shows and audiobooks are great tools. It is important to remember to keep the background noise lower than their tinnitus. If you don’t stick to this rule then when the background noise is turned off, their tinnitus levels may increase afterwards.
Luckily, most sufferers can successfully block out their symptoms for at least some parts of their daily life. Success is often due to being completely distracted by something, someone or an activity that requires their full attention. Lessen this challenge by offering to participate in an activity together when they are struggling.
This article was written by Paul Harrison, Audiology Expert and Founder of Hearing Aid UK.
With over 20 years of experience in audiology, Paul has dispensed many a hearing aid as a private audiologist and is a member of the BSHAA council. He attended Cambridge, where he studied audiology – then he moved on to working in both the manufacturing and retail sectors of the industry. He has worked for one of the largest hearing aid manufacturers as a Trainer, Product Manager, Sales Director and National Sales Manager.