I was recently emailed asking about tinnitus which I've suffered from for many years. I ended up writing a lengthy reply and realised it might be useful to post it somewhere a little more permanent and public.

The question I was asked was:

I'm wondering how you deal with your tinnitus? Does it still bother you? Do you get used to it? Does it distract you from work?

Here's my reply.

I've had tinnitus for about 15 years, or at least at a fairly strong level.

The short version is: I've not gotten used to it and yes it still bothers me and there's really nothing that can be done medically (I did once hear of an experimental invasive operation that could "cure" it, but it was pretty drastic and involved a permanent attachment against your head). There's lots of research being performed and still is ongoing but there's no real progress on a cure per se.

The web app you're referring to was an attempt to take music and "notch" out the frequency that my tinnitus ran at (around 8000-9000hz). It was based on a research paper that suggested that long term listening to sounds (usually music, even during sleep) with your tinnitus frequency removed could retrain your brain to adjust the tinnitus level.

This is a quick hack that I put together to get an idea of what tinnitus sounds like. Move the frequency slider to the different range and you'll get an idea of what we hear all the time. For your own safety, I've set the volume to zero, and make sure to scale up slowly and do not listen for too long as the sound could damage your own hearing (and possibly your speakers).

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From what I've read, tinnitus is your brain trying to adjust for a sound that it thinks it can't hear. So the result is a high ringing in your ears (typically, though it can be drilling sound, for me the worst is the heavy banging in my head).

Work (and general life) isn't really affected by my tinnitus, because it kind of fades into the background since I'm focusing on something. My tinnitus really comes to the foreground when I'm not distracted by something.

On bad days my tinnitus can be unbearable. On good days, I'll only notice it here or there. These last few years it's been a lot better for me. There was a period back in 2013 when my tinnitus was very very bad for many months.

What I've found over the years is that my tinnitus gets a lot worse when I'm tired and/or stressed. Which is a vicious circle, because when I'm tired, I need to sleep, but I can't because my tinnitus is loud and keeping me up, and I know I can't escape it, so I can't sleep, which makes me more tired and the tinnitus just feeds itself.

Listening to white/pink/brown noise at night helps me sometimes. It helps me concentrate on a sound that isn't my tinnitus which helps me sleep, which is overall good for the level of my tinnitus.

My mum has had tinnitus for as long as she can remember, and she tells me (in her late 60s) that it doesn't bother her anymore. She said it was more that as she's older, there's no real pressure anymore to be focused or working past the tinnitus.

As time goes on, I've definitely learnt how to live with my tinnitus. I know when it's bad, it's a signal that I need rest.

My advice would be to find some sounds that help sooth you. For me this ranges from white noise, the sound of rain or gentle storms (I've used Noisli recently, but a short mp3 on loop works just as well). Classical and gentle music helps me too.

I know this doesn't really help a great deal, but if you do suffer from tinnitus, do try to find ways to take care of yourself, and try to find what relaxes your mind when it's bad. There's always going to be work and life pressures, but you carry your tinnitus wherever you go and so putting yourself first will help those work and life pressures.

Also, remember that other people can't see or hear your tinnitus. If you have a parent, and you're having a tough time with the tinnitus, just tell them it's bad that day. I can get quite grumpy if my tinnitus is bad, but if there's an explanation, my partner knows how I'm feeling and it's not just random behaviour.