Tinnitus levels can fluctuate between one day and the next for a wide variety of reasons, begging the question: Why does my tinnitus come and go? These reasons can include physiological conditions in the body, environmental stressors, tinnitus management techniques used or the type of environment you are in. Here we look at some of the factors which can influence tinnitus levels.
How external stress can affect tinnitus loudness
One of the leading causes of tinnitus is stress. Tinnitus symptoms might manifest when we are at a particularly stressful point in our lives or having a stressful day.
When change occurs in our lives, be at work or at home, stress enables our bodies to react and lets the body respond mentally, physically and emotionally. When we are stressed for long periods of time, we can become imbalanced or out of equilibrium causing our tinnitus to seem louder on some days more than others.
Typical stressful situations might include life-changing events like a bereavement or losing a job. But continuous stress caused by everyday situations like work deadlines or stressful interpersonal relationships can also play its part. These situations can give the appearance that your tinnitus is louder on some days more than others.
There are also stress conditions which are related to tinnitus and can make tinnitus worse. Post Trauma Stress Disorder and Tinnitus have similar mechanisms and can accentuate each other. Please see the PTSD and Tinnitus article on our partner website Tinnitus Hearing Solutions.
Controlling your internal stress
While external stress can have an influence on the perceived loudness of your tinnitus, how you deal with that stress (known as internal stress) is equally influential. If our bodies are not well equipped to handle external stress this can increase the level of tinnitus you experience.
Our ability to handle stress is influenced by the three pillars of good health. These include nutrition, exercise and sleep.
Diet and stress
While we can become immune to experts telling us that we must have a healthy diet, it is still one of the most important aspects of keeping your stress levels low and managing your tinnitus symptoms.
Eating processed foods makes it more difficult for us to handle stress, as these often contain high levels of sugar. This can cause blood our sugar levels to fluctuate activating the sympathetic arm of our nervous system. And, this is the part that deals with our fight or flight and readies us for action. When this happens, we release stress hormones which can cause stress symptoms. These might include nervousness, anxiety, irritability and sleep disturbance, especially whilst experiencing tinnitus symptoms.
Eating a well-balanced diet also means that we are able to replace the vitamins and nutrients which may become depleted during times of stress. In particular, vitamins which help with stress include zinc, magnesium, iron and B complex.
Consuming excessive stimulant type foods can make your tinnitus seem louder on some days more than others. Dietary stimulants can also affect tinnitus levels because they raise adrenaline levels in the body. Stimulant examples include, coffee, chocolate, tea and alcohol. Yes, I know all the good stuff! This doesn’t have to be a permanent change but certainly for a few months to give your system some time to regain homeostasis and balance itself out.
Sleep and stress
Sleep cannot be underestimated as an important part for us to maintain a healthy body and a healthy mind. Our stress levels go up with less sleep or if you are suffering from long-term sleep difficulties. And, when stress levels go up tinnitus can seem louder.
If you have not slept properly one night you might experience higher stress levels, and your tinnitus might seem louder than on a normal day. Not only that but sleeping properly also helps with our ability to handle stress. Giving our bodies the chance to recuperate and rest is essential for managing stress. Lack of sleep affects mood, memory and judgement.
Exercise and stress
In trying to reduce your stress levels to bring your tinnitus loudness down, the unfortunate Catch 22 is that experiencing tinnitus in itself can be stressful. This can engage the sympathetic arm of our autonomic nervous system, which means we have more stress hormones moving around the body. Namely cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.
In order to reduce these hormones, we engage the other side of the autonomic nervous system by carrying out relaxed exercise. An example of this type of exercise is yoga. This means we feel relaxed and our tinnitus symptoms seem quieter and less intrusive and bothersome.
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How quiet environments can affect tinnitus
Tinnitus may seem louder on some days than others because of the type of environment you are in. Quiet environments can play havoc with the perception of tinnitus loudness and our nervous system.
Those quiet environments can make tinnitus symptoms seem worse for two main reasons. Firstly, having lower background noise levels to mask tinnitus can actually make it seem louder.
Secondly, silence can activate a stress response in the body which increases internal auditory sensitivity. Your hearing can become more acute as you ready yourself for a possible threat. Acute hearing can make internal noises in the hearing system like tinnitus louder.
Moving from a loud environment to a quieter one can give the impression that tinnitus symptoms have worsened. In order to adapt to the new quiet environment, it is helpful to give ourselves time to adjust. This might involve giving our ears a rub, carrying out some relaxed breathing exercises and be mindful of where our thoughts might be taking us in relation to our response to tinnitus symptoms.
Experiential avoidance and tinnitus loudness
Many people use some form of tinnitus masking to manage tinnitus. There may be occasions when you are unable to mask your tinnitus.
Moving from one environment where you mask your tinnitus with background noise or a tinnitus masker to a quiet one can make the sound of tinnitus seem louder than normal. Give yourself time to move from one environment to another by allowing yourself time to adjust. This might mean sitting and relaxing for a few moments whilst carrying out some relaxed breathing.
Concentrating on another activity
One of the things that affects tinnitus loudness is where our attention is focused. As an intelligent species we are good at problem solving. We concentrate on a problem in order to find a solution. However, concentrating on tinnitus symptoms and ruminating over them to find a solution is unhelpful for tinnitus management. Sometimes the more we concentrate on them the more irritated we can become and tinnitus loudness increases.
Whether it’s reading a book, playing a game, watching a film, cooking or gardening, placing our attention elsewhere through distraction is much more beneficial than concentrating on the tinnitus.
There are, however, occasions when concentrating on tinnitus is helpful but this only as part of tinnitus retraining therapy under the care of a qualified therapist.
The reason why tinnitus might seem louder on some days than others is that we are less busy and have less to concentrate on. Tinnitus can manifest into this space and our thoughts can run away with us. Mindfully carrying out routine tasks to take our attention away from tinnitus can often provide you with the best results .