While tinnitus is widespread in today’s society, it is still shrouded in stigma. 1 in 10 people are living with tinnitus, forced to say goodbye to silence as they previously experienced it, and adapt. However, awareness of tinnitus is sparse. Ironically, tinnitus is a silent condition widely prevalent in today’s society. Yet its impact is still downplayed. We believe no medical condition or symptom should be associated with stigma.
Dealing with tinnitus might be scary and daunting for some. As it carries a social stigma, people might be hesitant to seek help, worrying about how others might treat or perceive them. If tinnitus is coupled with hearing loss, this delay prevents people from receiving prompt and effective treatment.
The misconceptions of tinnitus start with its name. Tinnitus is derived from Latin and it means “ringing” but tinnitus can also present itself as “hissing”, “humming”, “whooshing”, “buzzing” or “whistling”. Tinnitus 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.
The science and causes around tinnitus are not entirely clear. If you want to learn more about the different causes of tinnitus, read the first edition of the Oto Guide. Tinnitus can be associated with exposure to loud sounds like blaring music, or age-related hearing loss, or, whilst some causes of tinnitus can also be due to ear wax build-up or head & neck injuries, other times there is no apparent reason for its emergence.
The stigma surrounding tinnitus is linked to outdated thinking about hearing health. Conditions regarding hearing health are commonly associated with old age. Hence a common mistake for people to make is that anyone dealing with problems with 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.
Being “different” is another part of this problem. 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 to aid in the reduction of this stigma. 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 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 people in social situations and it is our mission to build awareness in this area to lower any stigma, confusion or anxiety around social situations.
However, not all these stigmas are due to society’s perceptions of tinnitus. They are also driven by hearing aid companies and the advertisements they curate. A lot of these advertisements portray and emphasise the discreteness of their devices, playing into the idea that hearing aids are to be ashamed of or must be hidden away. While they are trying to appeal to the buying preferences of their customers, they are also sending out the message that wearing a hearing aid is something to be embarrassed about or concealed.
We want to eradicate any stigma related to tinnitus, but overcoming this will take time. The key to the fight is education: educating both the wider society and people with tinnitus/hearing loss. The more we learn about different hearing health problems, the more we 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.
Oto is an app for tinnitus that brings together all the effective therapies into a progressive programme of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), targeted mindfulness, relaxation therapy and education. Not only does Oto provide science-based therapy to better manage the tinnitus but it also offers mindfulness programmes specifically targeted at reducing stress and anxiety linked to worsening tinnitus.
Oto also provides access to a collection of specially curated masks that you can use to help relax, sleep, or just provide some respite from your tinnitus. The Oto team consists of doctors, audiologists, therapists, voice artists, sound engineers and researchers, and has decades of experience in helping people with tinnitus and insight from all walks of life.
Oto is a simple to use app providing you with different tinnitus therapies directly from your smartphone. By using the CBT and mindfulness programmes Oto has to offer, it will teach you how to respond to your tinnitus and the effect it has on your life. CBT can allow you to restore the normal function in your life despite the presence of your tinnitus, and eventually habituate to the sound. By building confidence around your tinnitus, it will help you fight the stigma associated with it. The more we normalise tinnitus, the easier it will be to open up and have conversations about it.