Watching a loved one suffer from a debilitating health condition can make you feel powerless. All you want to do is help them, but you may not know how. Tinnitus can have a major effect on a person’s quality of life. It can cause stress, anxiety, and in some cases, even insomnia. Tinnitus is a complicated health problem, and sometimes even the person suffering from it may not know how other people can be helpful. Below we gathered a list of tips on how you can support a loved one suffering from tinnitus.
Understanding what tinnitus is and that your loved one’s pain is real, and their suffering is genuine is a great first step. Imagine hearing a sound that sends a shiver down your spine and not being able to ever switch it off. This is the reality for many people living with tinnitus. It is usually described as a ringing in the ears, but tinnitus can also sound like clicking, whooshing, humming, or hissing. For some people, tinnitus causes constant noise, which can make it difficult for them to concentrate on day-to-day tasks and can affect their quality of life. Anxiety and stress levels can rise, and the noise can make it hard to sleep.
Work becomes challenging too as focusing with a sound constantly blaring in your ears is difficult. Tinnitus is much more prevalent than most people realize. The CDC estimates that tinnitus affects 15% of the population and 50 million people in the US alone. As of right now, there is no known cure, only relief.
When someone doesn’t look obviously ill, people tend to underestimate their suffering. Some people think of tinnitus as something like a temporary ringing in the ear that everyone can experience after a loud event and that isn’t very problematic. Tinnitus however is different and a lot more devastating.
Try to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes and ask questions. Validating their experience makes all the difference in the world. Plus, the better you understand their situation, the more authentic your support will be in their eyes. Just making an effort to understand what they’re going through is a comfort and puts you ahead of everyone else.
Help them relax
On a daily basis, people living with tinnitus could experience massive amounts of stress and anxiety. While for many of us, simply sitting quietly isn’t a challenge, for somebody with tinnitus it can be — and remember, there’s no such thing as total silence in their life.
However, relaxation is an effective coping mechanism. Going for a walk together, exercising, or trying a yoga class can help. You can recommend a relaxing hobby like crafting, meditation or joining a book club. Encourage them to take a hot bath or shower, or take them to a sauna, steam room, hot tub, or even for a massage.
Anything that helps your loved one to relax physically will help them to relax mentally and emotionally as well. These ideas might sound simple, but in the middle of an intensely negative emotional experience, sometimes it’s difficult to think or act rationally, and it’s nice to have somebody to lean on.
Put on background noise
It’s in the empty spaces between external sounds that tinnitus usually lives. Therefore, the presence of genuine sounds can help to block out the noise created by tinnitus and make it easier to ignore. This is why sound masking is one of the simplest coping strategies available.
All you have to do is put on some background noise. Music, nature sounds, and podcasts, television, or radio shows can all work well. Any sound that your loved one finds relaxing or entertaining can do the job, so it’s a good idea to explore different masking options when they aren’t suffering as much. Just make sure to keep the volume down not to let their tinnitus volume spike when masking is turned off.
Recommend hearing aids
Most people develop tinnitus as a symptom of hearing loss. Hearing aids can increase the volume of external noises, which makes internal sounds far less noticeable. Restoring the hearing function of people with tinnitus also makes it easier for them to focus on other things, such as conversations or music, that can distract them and take their mind off the symptoms of tinnitus. The Hearing Review found that roughly 60% of people with tinnitus experienced at least some relief from a hearing aid. Roughly 22% found significant relief. Therefore, recommending your loved one to try hearing aids may work magic in some cases.
If your loved one suffers from tinnitus, there’s not much more you can do other than being supportive and empathetic. Recommending them an audiologist who specializes in tinnitus management can however make a big difference. There are excellent, well-established tools and treatments that can significantly reduce the perceived burden of tinnitus. With perseverance and support from highly trained doctors of audiology, these options can help tinnitus patients — even those with severe cases of the condition.