Tips for Managing Tinnitus

I’ve lived with tinnitus on and off since I was around five years old. As a result, I’ve learned a few things about my tinnitus that may help you to understand yours. You can also watch me talk about living with tinnitus in this short video for BBC News.

#1 Figure out your personal wellness formula for managing your tinnitus.

Note when your tinnitus symptoms are elevated and aggravated as well as when they’re much quieter. Using journaling to track its patterns helps you to understand how your lifestyle and habits exacerbate/alleviate your tinnitus.

# 2 Give your body what it needs.

  • Get on top of gut health. They say your gut is your second brain! If you’ve noticed that the pattern of your tinnitus bears some relation to how your stomach feels and your digestion, try, for example, probiotics. Or explore how adjustments to your diet can support gut health. Keeping a food diary is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself as you reconnect with your body and understand, not just how your body responds to your diet but also what you might be missing and the impact of your lifestyle on how and what you eat (and drink).
  • Find out whether you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency. I currently take B12, Ester-C (vitamin C) and magnesium. I’ve taken others including vitamin D depending on what I need at the time. Obviously, this is my own personal mix and not a prescription or medical advice. It’s more the point that you need to try and figure out what your body needs (or get help in doing so). I visit a kinesiologist every few months or so and am muscle-tested for what I need. Tinnitus (and a host of other ailments) is frequently linked online to B12 deficiency. Side note: I don’t take anything with synthetics (or wheat/dairy) in it.
  • If your body needs sleep, give it sleep (and rest). Tinnitus seems to love routine. I’ve become an early-night person. Even if I don’t go to sleep straight away, I try to be in bed by 9pm, at least three to four times a week. This has also meant that if I’m going through a patch of waking in the middle of the night, that it’s not as bad as it would be if I’d gone to bed late.
  • Movement. Do you need a bit more fresh air and/or exercise? I’m in no danger of turning into a gym bunny, but tinnitus has caused me to realise that my body needs movement. Walks with the dog, running club once a week, a few minutes of sun salutations (yoga) all have a positive knock-on effect. I rarely hear tinnitus while doing these, incidentally. Discover what works for you.
  • Drink water! Hydration matters for overall health. It keeps everything moving including flushing toxins out. Check with your doctor about your recommended amount. I try to drink 1.5-2 litres a day. I’ve noticed that when my tinnitus is elevated, I’m a bit (or a lot) dehydrated.
  • Regular meals. I’m someone who gets hangry (hungry and angry) when I’m over hungry as well as stressed and tired. Becoming hangry is a knock-on effect of ignoring my needs. It means I’ve tried to squeeze too much in or not given me enough breaks. If you tend to skip meals and you don’t feel particularly good in doing so, it’s worth noticing whether regular meals makes a difference.
  • Notice whether there’s something you need to increase or cut out. I stopped eating wheat in 2010 during another tinnitus bout. I’ve since cut right down on dairy as it also doesn’t seem to agree with me. Whether it’s through journaling, paying attention to your body’s sensations, or getting tested, figure out what your body needs. Something I learned years ago from a friend who was dieting like crazy and eating “all the right things” is that everyone’s body is personal. Her body was intolerant to a lot of the things she was eating. So get a sense of what works for you. I can get away with a little bit of wheat (no hardcore stuff) and dairy as long as my body’s fairly happy due to low stress.
  • Bake relaxation into your days and week. Although a part of you might be concerned that if you relax, your tinnitus is going to be bugging the bejaysus out of you, consistently taking time to chill out (different to bedtime) does seem to help. If you feel as if you can’t spare the time to relax for even 15-30 minutes a day, this is a clue about the presence of your tinnitus. You’re not listening to and making time for yourself so your body’s trying to catch your attention.

# 3 Explore other options.

Feel as if you don’t want to settle for “no cure” and want help and support with finding relief? It’s worth exploring other avenues. This might mean checking out ENT (ears, nose and throat) or tinnitus specialists. Or, you may decide to check out other therapies including alternative options. I’ve thrown a lot of different things at this tinnitus in an effort to obliterate it. As a result, I have a few handy tips…

Focus on overall wellbeing rather than trying to rule tinnitus.

Try to take a holistic approach that encompasses your body and life as a whole. Not solely focusing on and defining you on tinnitus, brings unexpected gains. It makes you less inclined to try to control it. Regard anything you’re doing as an opportunity to potentially improve your overall wellbeing.

Try to go with what feels in alignment with who you are.

For instance, you might be open to alternative options. But some folks might tell you that it’s a waste of time. Equally, though, if you don’t believe in some of the alternative options out there, you don’t need to feel as if there’s something wrong with you for not exploring these. Your body, your business. And this goes for comparing your endeavours with other tinnitus sufferers. Each person’s journey is personal and unique even though there will undoubtedly be common themes.

That said, tinnitus is one of those things that will knock the stubbornness and rigidity out of you. If you’re prone to people-pleasing and perfectionism, these aren’t who you are. These are masks, costumes, armour, roles. If you’re typically close-minded or reluctant to make changes/tweaks even when the status quo suggests that you need to, tinnitus will invite you to make shifts.

Don’t seek validation about your choices.

No one else is living in your body. They don’t hear what you hear or know precisely what you’re going through. Yes, it’s nice to have people around you who agree with your choices but don’t let gaining their agreement be at the expense of listening to yourself and your peace of mind.

I’m pretty woo-woo and open to trying out other options. I make no apologies about it, and based on my personal experience, going alternative has saved my life. Following the diagnosis of an “incurable” immune system disease in 2004, I did a year-long course of aggressive steroids. When it became apparent that this hadn’t shut it down, my consultant gave me a life expectancy of age 40 if I didn’t permanently go on steroids. I opted to decline and seek alternative options. Doctors, friends, colleagues, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker (joking about the latter) all seemed to want to have a say in my health. I’ve been “in remission” from sarcoidosis since April 2006.

If it’s made a difference for me despite someone else not believing in it, that’s what matters. I’m like, “Who cares? It worked! I’m happier, alive, moving around — that’s what matters!”

Don’t try to make a treatment session the magic bullet.

I was so obsessed with getting rid of my tinnitus that I’d go for one session of something and with quiet desperation would hope that I’d wake up the following morning tinnitus-free. It’s likely that anything you pursue, medical or alternative, is going to take time.

Avoid trying more than one or two therapies/avenues at a time.

If you’re going here, there and everywhere and actually start to experience relief from your tinnitus, how will you know which therapy/treatment contributed? It’s also possible that one treatment may cross over with another and undo that work. For instance, having cranial osteopathy and then a head massage a few days later. And, make sure you’re honest with practitioners about anything else that you’re doing so that they have a full picture.

#4 Try not to obsess about the tinnitus.

Take it from someone who did this — it drove me batty. I ruminated about all of the events that appeared to have triggered it, and then I obsessed about why all of the things I was doing weren’t working yet. I was on guard for tinnitus. Hell, I was desperate to control it. Even in quieter moments, my being braced for its appearance caused me to become almost hyper-sensitive to it. It got to the point where I noticed a pattern of things being quiet and then me thinking about tinnitus and seconds later, boom, ear rattled. This forced me to redirect my thoughts and to give things (and people) my full focus.

The more you obsess and ruminate about anything, never mind tinnitus, is the more you feed it.

Worry, obsessing, ruminating and other anxiety-driven habits that appear to keep our minds busy, are like goldfish: they don’t know when they’re ‘full’. They’ll take whatever you feed them. These also become a habit, and so your mind starts to associate certain aspects of your day with obsessing about tinnitus, and next thing, going to bed or irritation with someone becomes a subtle cue to start ruminating about [the tinnitus].

#5 Don’t throw money at tinnitus in lieu of doing the work of caring for you.

I’ve spent a lot of money trying to basically, well, be in control of tinnitus. Seeking the magic fix in treatments, at times, seemed ‘easier’ than facing uncomfortable, sticky aspects of my life. E.g. consistently changing a work habit. That doesn’t mean that spending some money in your quest to calm your tinnitus isn’t useful. However, where I’ve made the most gains is with the things I didn’t need to buy: investing my time, energy, efforts and emotions into me. Being mindful of my bandwidth. Adjusting my life so that I could slow down enough to literally listen to myself. Tinnitus will force you to finally learn to embrace self-care.

#6 Be mindful of excessively loud noise

This is personal to you, both in types of sound and volume. On those occasions when I go out clubbing or partying (yep, still got it, haha), it doesn’t seem to aggravate my tinnitus. That said, I don’t stand near speakers.

If loud noise such as the television on high volume aggravates it, let people know. It’s not that the volume needs to be low per se, but gunfire (husband loves falling asleep with 80s and 90s classics like frickin Predator blaring) and the closing credits music cause the volume to temporarily increase. And don’t do that thing where you say nothing because you don’t want to inconvenience others. Speak up!

I’m not one for avoiding sounds as, certainly for me, it made me hypersensitive. I went through a period of my tinnitus being badly triggered by hand dryers in bathrooms, especially the Dyson ones. At times, it was excruciating. But being terrified of the bloody things only made it worse, so when my tinnitus was especially elevated and I needed to use public bathrooms, I went out of my way to take deep breaths and relax.

#7 Manage sources of stress and anxiety.

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of noticing that you are stressed and anxious and then feeling as if these are signs of your inability to cope. No, they’re your body’s way of alerting you to your boundaries, bandwidth and overall wellbeing. Yes, we all experience stress, but we are not designed to take intolerable amounts of it or to live our lives in ways that are inauthentic.

Count your stresses. It helps you to put things into perspective. So many people are entirely unaware of how many big stressors they’re grappling with. They don’t realise that most people would struggle with one never mind a few or several!

Anxiety can, like tinnitus, feel very debilitating. It’s worth acknowledging that anxiety is a useful emotion, but when you’ve ignored yourself too often, it becomes very overzealous. That makes it difficult to know what the hell to do with it. It’s possible that being anxious has become a habit. If you tend to be anxious, for example, about a particular thing or you tend to fill in time with worry, your mind now associates certain cues and triggers with this habit.

  • Look across the areas of your life and note which ones seem out of balance whether it’s because they’re very stressy or neglected.
  • Notice where and with whom you tend to feel obliged, guilty or fearful.
  • People-pleasing, perfectionism, procrastination and overthinking are major sources of stress and anxiety that have knock-on effects. For instance, eating or drinking away your feelings to cope with how bad you feel about the pleasing you’re doing at a soul-sucking job.
  • Following rules and formulas that prevent you from listening to your inner voice and being creative.
  • Notice whether phone and social media usage and along with news consumption impacts your emotional and mental wellbeing.

#8 Express yourself.

Express your feelings, concerns, ideas, etc., to yourself through journaling as well as within your interpersonal relationships where possible. Basically, try to speak up and show up even a little bit more.

Awareness and knowledge of your needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions are crucial to your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. I’m a big advocate for journaling because it’s a brilliant tool for self-expression and getting to know, like and trust you.

It’s very possible to wake up well into adulthood and discover that you don’t know yourself. The clues might be in a pattern of painful relationships, feeling stuck career-wise, or your relationships lacking intimacy because you’re afraid to be you.

Recognising, acknowledging and expressing our feelings is something that many adults struggle with. We may experience shame and be practised at being shut down. There’s often a concern about appearing “selfish” or “needy” or “dramatic” or “too sensitive”.

It’s also safe to say that many people have no clue what their needs are. Many of us internalised various early experiences as a sign that there’s no point in having or voicing needs. We figured that they would be ignored or that they couldn’t be met. Or we believed that someone else’s was more important than ours.

Whether you use journaling purely to track patterns in your life or you use it to express and, yes, vent your feelings, you will gradually begin to feel like a different person. Even if you feel uncomfortable about expressing, for instance, anger and frustration to others, getting it on paper gets it out of your system where it can’t wreak havoc and take a toll on your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health. You will also find that by organising your thoughts and feelings a little bit more, that you have the perspective and confidence to speak up and to make decisions.

Tips for living with tinnitus by Natalie Lue

Books I’ve found useful

As frustrating and even debilitating as living with tinnitus has been at times, it’s helped me to become more of who I really am. I take waaaay better care of myself than I used to which has a very positive knock-on effect on everything from my family to my health, to my work. I hope you can too.

And I want to stress that obviously this isn’t medical advice.