When you live with tinnitus, the ringing can start to affect every single aspect of your quality of life.
At first, it’s usually just a nuisance—something you aren’t worried about and can easily ignore. But when the sound doesn’t go away, many sufferers quickly find themselves caught in a vicious cycle.
Panic and anxiety rise, which in turn can make tinnitus louder. Suddenly, it’s harder to fall asleep, and the lack of sleep makes it louder still, and harder to focus while you’re awake.
Worst of all, many patients are let down by their doctors. So many people are told that they just have to live with it, that there’s nothing they can do. Though this isn’t actually true—there is a lot you can do about your tinnitus—but most people have no reason to question their doctor, so it only creates more panic and further accelerates the vicious cycle of suffering.
The good news is that there is hope: Lasting relief from tinnitus is entirely possible. You can habituate and get to a place where it stops bothering you entirely, where your brain just stops paying attention to the sound. And there are lots of helpful and clever things you can do right now to improve quality of life with tinnitus.
So today, I’d like to share five life hacks that helped me to cope with my own bothersome tinnitus and greatly improved my wellbeing.
Tinnitus life hacks
1. High-fidelity (musician’s) earplugs:
Everyone should always protect their ears in loud environments, but when you live with tinnitus or hearing loss, it’s of the utmost importance to protect the hearing you have left. Noise-induced hearing losscan change or worsen tinnitus in a big way.
The problem is that many earplugs make it hard to enjoy yourself in certain environments because they muffle and distort the sounds you hear. It becomes difficult or even impossible to have a conversation, enjoy music, or have awareness of your surroundings.
High-fidelity earplugs (also known as musician’s earplugs) solve this problem entirely. Instead of simply absorbing or blocking out as much sound as possible, which is the case with traditional earplugs, special filters are used to evenly reduce the decibel level of your surroundings. This way, you can still enjoy music, have conversations, and maintain situational awareness, just at a lower volume.
You have two options to purchase high-fidelity earplugs:
- You can purchase a set of inexpensive one-size-fits-all high-fidelity earplugs that offer 12-22 decibel reduction
- Eargasm and Etymotic are both great earplugs and my personal favorites
- You can have a custom set of high-fidelity earplugs molded to your ears by an audiologist. This is much more expensive, but also a significantly better option, because they’re much more comfortable and many sets come with interchangeable filters that offer multiple levels of sound reduction for different environments.
- Find a hearing care specialist in the Healthy Hearing Directory
PRO TIP: Most high-fidelity earplugs come with a keychain carrying case. Keep a set on your keychain so you have them with you at all times. My rule of thumb is to put them in my ears anytime I think, “Is this too loud?” even if it’s not actually a harmful decibel level. I find it’s better to be safe than sorry.
2. Pack a medical go-bag:
For many sufferers, one of the more difficult aspects of living with tinnitus is the constant feeling of fear. When your tinnitus can spike at any moment, of course you feel fear–it’s like you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It starts to permeate every part of your life.
One helpful way to counter some of this fear is to pack a medical go-bag and keep it with you whenever you leave the house.
The idea here is simple: Take a few minutes to think about the different tinnitus-related problems that can occur while you are out and about and pack a bag with all the supplies you might need to deal with any of these potential challenges.
In terms of tinnitus, your medical go-bag might contain things like medications, supplements, earplugs, headphones, drinks/food/snacks, hearing aids, in-ear maskers (see below), or a list of emergency contacts.
This way, if things do go wrong, you will more confidently be able to deal with problems as they occur, which should help to reduce some of the fear.
3. Masking with an infinite sound machine:
Sound masking is a well-known and effective coping tool for tinnitus patients who still have some of their hearing. For many sufferers, background noise offers temporary relief by drowning out the sounds of their tinnitus.
Between white noise machines, sound machines, fans, hearing aids (with masking features), in-ear masking devices, and more elaborate stereo equipment, tinnitus patients have a lot of options. But not all masking devices are created equal and you don’t need to break the bank to find relief.
The problem is that there are major drawbacks to most masking devices. White noise machines typically only offer a single sound. Sound machines often have poor quality speakers and short sound files that loop endlessly (it always drives me crazy when I notice the repetition). In-ear maskers and hearing aids with masking features can be helpful, but you are typically limited to only a few different sounds, which may or may not work well with your tinnitus.
In my opinion, the best masking device is your smartphone connected to a Bluetooth speaker (headphones can work well too, in a pinch).
Not only is the sound quality significantly better than your average masking device, but you have access to a seemingly infinite selection of sounds through the thousands of sound therapy apps available in smartphone app stores.
Not every masking sound works well for every type of tinnitus, but with this strategy, there is something for everyone. And you can use this set up for music and podcasts, too, which are often even more effective for masking because they drown out the sound while also holding your attention.