Tinnitus is widespread in today’s society. 1 in 10 people are living with it, forced to adapt to a new kind of experience, without the silence they have been used to previously.
However, for many, it is still shrouded in stigma.
Ironically, tinnitus is a silent condition. It can be very frustrating for those struggling with tinnitus to share with others exactly what they are perceiving.
Frustratingly, the impact of tinnitus on people's lives is downplayed.
We believe no medical condition should be associated with shame.
Once diagnosed with chronic tinnitus, people have to adjust to a new reality.
It can be difficult to come to terms with the condition, particularly when feelings such as shame and regret can dominate.
It's a scary and daunting time for some and the fact that it is not taken seriously by some of society means that it people are even more hesitant to seek tinnitus help.
However, it is important to get a professional assessment when you first notice your tinnitus. And there are tinnitus treatments out there to help you manage it, as well as others living with tinnitus and support groups.
More than ‘Ringing’
The misconception regarding tinnitus starts with its name.
The word 'tinnitus' comes from the Latin for “ringing”. However, tinnitus can also present itself as “hissing”, “humming”, “whooshing”, “buzzing” or “whistling” among other descriptions.
It does not purely manifest as a single ringing sound and can be present in one ear, or both. It can vary in intensity, pitch, volume and stability.
What causes tinnitus, and the science behind this is not always clear. Tinnitus can be associated with exposure to loud sounds like blaring music, or age-related hearing loss.
Whilst some causes of tinnitus can also be due to ear wax build-up or head & neck injuries, at other times there is no apparent reason for its emergence.
Many Lack Knowledge About Tinnitus
The view of tinnitus in society can be mixed according to levels of knowledge. However, there can be a stigma surrounding tinnitus which is linked to outdated thinking about hearing health.
Conditions regarding hearing health are commonly associated with old age.
Therefore, a common mistake for people to make is that anyone dealing with problems regarding their hearing, such as tinnitus, must be old.
Understandably, this relationship with old age can manifest as hesitancy to address the tinnitus and seek medical attention.
Wanting to Fit In
It is human nature to want to be part of a group. This natural tendency can sometimes lead us to treat others who are not like us differently.
Increased awareness in society is needed help reduce stigma around tinnitus. However, we have come some way in increasing diversity and inclusion in this area. American Girl released its first doll with hearing loss and a hearing aid in 2020, to expose children to this common reality.
Something that those with hearing loss and tinnitus have to manage is their ability and readiness to interact in loud social situations.
Unfortunately, this can be confused with social awkwardness or poor communication skills.
It is understandable that any changes in hearing health will affect how people behave in social situations and it is our mission to build awareness in this area. Knowledge is the key to lowering stigma and reducing confusion or anxiety around social situations.
However, not all of society's perception regarding tinnitus is due to people's assumptions.
Hearing aid companies and the advertisements they produce portray and emphasise the discreteness of their devices, exacerbating the idea that hearing aids are something to be ashamed of or that they must be hidden away.
Of course, it is important for these companies to appeal to the buying preferences of their customers, but they are also sending out the message that wearing a hearing aid is something to be embarrassed about or concealed. This, in turn, reduces the opportunities to normalise discussing hearing health and tinnitus.
Fighting the Stigma with Education
We want to eradicate the stigma related to tinnitus, but overcoming this will take time. The key to the fight is education.
It is important to educated both wider society and people with tinnitus/hearing loss.
The more we learn about different hearing health conditions, the more we will come to understand them and their treatment.
The better we understand something, the less we are prone to judge it. Promoting open, honest conversations with friends and family about tinnitus or hearing loss is a great step to take.
By explaining to them the implications that tinnitus has on your hearing and asking them to repeat what they are saying or to speak louder, social isolation can be avoided.
Talk to Someone
Tinnitus can be a lonely place. If you're struggling to know who to talk to, check out the British Tinnitus Association's list of Support Groups.
Oto has been called 'a friendly app'. It will not dictate the approach you should take but it will act as a guide for you to learn how to manage tinnitus.
By building up your confidence around living with tinnitus, you will be able to help reduce the stigma associated with it.
The more we understand and normalise tinnitus, the easier it will be to open up and have conversations about it.