At its least, tinnitus is annoying. At its worst, it is a debilitating illness. It can make those suffering feel powerless, stressed, and anxious, and it destroy their quality of life.
Of course, when we see a loved one suffering with tinnitus, it’s natural to want to help. It’s hard to watch a loved one suffer. It’s difficult to even comprehend, and it doesn’t help that tinnitus is an invisible illness. It’s hard to understand what we can’t see, or in this case, what we can’t hear.
However, it’s not always easy to know what to do or how to help. Sometimes even our loved ones may not know themselves. If you love someone with tinnitus (and chances are good that you do – 10-15% of the population is living with tinnitus), use these guidelines to help you understand what they are going through. Even when they feel powerless, you can be the one to make a difference.
Show Compassion and Empathy
Because tinnitus is an invisible illness, when you are suffering from it, no one knows. Rather, everyone just assumes you’re healthy. But under the surface, tinnitus is a devastating condition that can cause anxiety and panic.
Tinnitus is often described as “nails on a chalkboard,” only worse, because it never ends. Sleep becomes difficult and restless. Focusing on work or other tasks is a challenge, with the sounds of tinnitus blaring in the ears.
Perhaps the biggest and most important thing you can do to help a loved one suffering with tinnitus is to just believe their pain is real. In a world of people who don’t understand, you can be the one person who does. You can help in other ways too, but not before you take this step. Learn as much as you can about tinnitus and take the time to listen to them and validate their pain.
Suggest Stress Relief and Relaxation
Often, those suffering feel powerless, as many doctors don’t know how to help. Patients are told there’s nothing they can do. While it is true that there is no cure for many types of tinnitus, treatment is possible.
Stress and anxiety become a part of life for those suffering with tinnitus, but unfortunately, they are also triggers, making the tinnitus even worse. It’s a viscous cycle.
When someone you love is dealing with a sudden tinnitus spike, you can make an impact by helping them to relax. It’s a powerful way to fight back, and you can help them find relief in the moment.
It’s important to approach this from as many angles as possible, both mental and physical. Mental relaxation can be achieved through relaxing hobbies, breathing techniques, meditation, physical exercise, and any other activity that your loved one enjoys. Physical relaxation can be achieved through massage, trigger point release, hot tubs, hot baths/showers, and so on. The more relaxation techniques your loved one is able to put into practice, the better they’ll be able to cope.
Help Distract Them Through a Moment of Crisis
Through a mental process called habituation, humans are capable of tuning out annoying background noise from conscious awareness. That’s what allows us to carry on conversations in loud restaurants. But with tinnitus, the brain cannot tune out a sound that it interprets as threatening or dangerous.
Evolutionarily speaking, we are hardwired to react to noises that imply danger through a stress response. With tinnitus, though, it never ends because the sounds are constant. Most tinnitus sufferers are able to ignore their tinnitus at least some of the time, but there are always times when a sudden spike of tinnitus can cause panic and crisis.
If someone you care about is struggling, help them cope by distracting them from the sound. Encourage them to participate fully in any activity that helps them ignore it. In other words, do what you can to effectively distract them from the noise and help them habituate. This can often be enough to just get them through a moment of crisis.
Suggest Using Background Noise
Sound masking and the use of background noise is one of the most common coping strategies for those with tinnitus. The practice is simple: if someone is bothered by their tinnitus, they can find relief by blocking it out with background noise. Although sound masking won’t help to address the underlying problem that prevents a person from habituating in the first place, as a coping tool it can be very effective.
As obvious as this may seem, many people don’t automatically do this when their tinnitus is bothering them. But you can remind them, or even better, listen with them. Music, white noise, and nature sounds all work well.
Easing the Burden
Unless you are also struggling with tinnitus, it can be hard to empathize with someone suffering with this invisible illness, but tinnitus is much worse than most people realize. There isn’t a cure, but there is hope. Your loved one can get to a place where it stops bothering them as badly, and you can help.
Use these coping strategies to help your loved one through a moment of crisis or prevent future spikes through relaxation. Learn as much as you can about tinnitus and show them support and compassion. Suggest they contact an audiologist for further treatment options. No one should have to suffer through tinnitus alone. Let us help you help them.