If you’ve lived with tinnitus for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that it’s not always constant.
It fluctuates, and not just in volume, but in sound and intensity, or the number of sounds.
These flare-ups are commonly known as tinnitus spikes, and it’s the bane of every tinnitus sufferer’s existence.
Because even if you’ve fully habituated and are no longer bothered by your tinnitus, spikes can still make you miserable. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to deal with them as they occur.
With a little bit of effort, you can bounce back and find the relief you deserve.
Step 1: Physical Relaxation
Stress, anxiety, and panic all play a role in how we perceive the sound of our tinnitus. It shapes the way we react emotionally, physically, and psychologically
As a result, when it’s bothering us, we can’t tune it out because it’s impossible to ignore a sound that our brain is interpreting as something dangerous or threatening. We’re evolutionarily hardwired to focus on any sound that may imply danger.
Unfortunately, our brains also can’t tell the difference between an imagined threat like tinnitus and real danger, so our reaction is the same. We have a stress response, and it doesn’t end because tinnitus doesn’t just go away, trapping us in a vicious cycle.
The only thing we actually have the power to change is the way we react to the sound. Over time, this can lead to habituation. But you can also work on your reaction in the moment to help you find relief during tinnitus spikes.
As soon as your tinnitus spikes or starts bothering you, the very first thing you should do is trigger a physiological relaxation response.
One of the easiest ways to trigger a relaxation response is with deep breathing exercises. It doesn’t have to be complicated. As soon as you experience a spike, stop what you’re doing and practice the following technique:
Sit down comfortably, close your eyes, and consciously relax all your muscles. Next, close your mouth and inhale slowly through your nose for a total of four seconds. Count in your mind as you do this. Once you complete the four second inhale, hold the breath in for an additional four seconds. Then slowly exhale through your mouth for another four seconds. And finish with a four second pause before you inhale again. Continue until you feel more relaxed.
I encourage you to try the following breathing technique as well:
Brainwave Entrainment is a mind-altering audio technology that can induce specific changes in your mental state with nothing but sound.
In a nutshell, here’s how it works:
How you feel changes your brainwaves in a very precise way. In fact, there is a predictable and measurable brainwave pattern directly associated with every possible mental state you could ever experience. Yet amazingly, the opposite is also true. You can change your mental state, and how you feel, by changing your brainwaves with an external audio stimulus.
By simply listening to a brainwave entrainment audio track embedded with the frequencies that correspond with deep relaxation, you can trigger a relaxation response at the push of a button.
Step 2: Trigger Avoidance
Tinnitus spikes may appear to happen randomly, but more often than not, they’re triggered by something external in your environment.
The problem is the actual triggers vary from person to person.
If you know what your triggers are, and you’re having a tinnitus spike, take steps to avoid everything that makes your tinnitus worse.
If you don’t know what your triggers are, avoid the common triggers until your tinnitus settles back down.
Identifying your triggers:
The easiest way to identify your unique tinnitus triggers is to track specific aspects of your lifestyle, environment, and diet, to look for patterns.
When you have the right information in front of you, it’s much easier to figure it all out. So I created a free worksheet called the Rewiring Tinnitus Trigger Tool to help you keep track of the right things.
All you have to do is fill one out every day. Once you’ve done this for a short while, you can go back and compare the days when your tinnitus was bothering you the most and look for anything in common among those days.
You can also compare your best days, and figure out if anything in particular is helping you to improve.
Earplugs and Loud Noise Avoidance:
Loud sound exposure puts even healthy hearing people at risk of developing tinnitus and hearing loss. But when you already have tinnitus, it makes it much worse. When you’re experiencing a tinnitus spike, or if it’s bothering you more than normal, avoid loud environments.
If staying away from noisy places isn’t an option, make sure to wear earplugs. Regular earplugs will work well to protect your hearing, but if you need to be able to carry on conversations, or want to be able to hear music clearly, Hi-Fidelity (Musicians) earplugs are your best bet. They lower the decibel level of sound without distorting the quality and many are virtually invisible once inserted properly.
Avoid Common Triggers:
If you’re experiencing a tinnitus spike and don’t know what your triggers are, it can be helpful to avoid some of the more common triggers.
To get you started, the following list details several commonly reported tinnitus triggers and what you can do to avoid them. I should mention that you only need to do this temporarily, and not everything will apply to you. Once you’ve identified what your triggers are, you can ignore the rest of these suggestions. But if you don’t know what’s triggering you, there’s a good chance that some of these changes will help.
- High sodium diet – Until your tinnitus spike ends, try lowering your sodium consumption to 1500-2000 mg a day, and spread it out evenly throughout the day.
- High Sugar diet – Too much sugar in your diet can be a trigger as well. Try limiting your sugar intake until your tinnitus
- Dehydration – Dehydration is a fairly common trigger. A good rule of thumb is to divide your weight (measured in pounds) by 2. The result is the minimum number of ounces of water you should drink daily. So, a 160-pound man would need at least 80 ounces of water (10 cups) a day. (1 cup of water = 8 ounces)
- Nicotine – Nicotine is a common tinnitus trigger. If possible, stop smoking all together, otherwise, cutback on your nicotine intake.
- Alcohol – Many people find alcohol to be a trigger as well. If possible, abstain until your tinnitus improves. Otherwise, reduce your alcohol consumption.
- Food Sensitivities – Avoid all known food sensitivities until your tinnitus improves.
- Allergies – When possible, avoid known allergens that affect you. If you’re allergic to something you can’t avoid, like pollen, daytime antihistamines like Zyrtec (Cetirizine) can be helpful. **Speak with your doctor first**
- Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ) – If you have TMJ, make sure to wear your bite guard or dental appliance as directed until your tinnitus improves.
Step 3: Go Back to the Basics
Stress and sleep deprivation are two of the biggest tinnitus triggers and are often the cause of spikes. Taking steps to improve your stress levels and get better sleep is of the utmost importance.
Physical Stress Reduction:
Of all the things that exacerbate tinnitus, stress is one of the worst offenders. It’s also the most prevalent.
Even when you fully habituate to the sound of your tinnitus, if your stress levels go up, it can start to bother you again. When you experience a spike, stress is most likely playing a role.
I encourage you to try to reduce your mental stress levels with things like therapy, pleasurable activities and hobbies, and spending time with loved ones. But when tinnitus spikes occur, a more direct approach is needed.
Stress tends to work its way into our physical bodies as tension, knots, physical aches and pains, and general discomfort. Luckily, reducing stress in the body not only will help you feel more relaxed in the moment, but will benefit you mentally and emotionally, as well.
The mind and body are intimately connected, and when the body is relaxed, the mind will follow. Focusing on reducing physical stress and tension can have a powerful impact on your tinnitus, especially during spikes.
The next time your tinnitus spikes or starts bothering you, the following suggestions will help you quickly reduce your stress load:
- Massage – If you can afford it, a professional masseuse can quickly relieve tense and knotted muscles throughout the entire body. It’s incredible relaxing and can have a dramatic effect on your stress levels. Alternatively, you can use a lacrosse ball to perform trigger point massage on yourself. When done properly, it’s extremely effective – click here to learn more.
- Hot Tub / Hot Bath – Hot tubs and hot baths are two of the easiest ways to relieve muscle tension throughout the body. It’s such a simple way to relax. The next time your tinnitus spikes, give it a try!
- Saunas – Like hot baths, saunas are another fantastic tool for physical stress reduction. The intense heat quickly relaxes stiff and sore muscles. Try 20 minutes in the sauna – it’s more than enough to work up a good sweat. Just make sure to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before you get in and after you get out.
- Acupuncture – Whether you believe in the medical benefits of acupuncture or not, it’s an intensely relaxing experience. The next time you have a tinnitus spike, I encourage you to give it a try.
- Exercise – Exercise isn’t going to relieve tension from your body, but when you finish, you’re going to feel a whole lot better. And you don’t have to overdo it. Even going for a walk is enough for your brain to start releasing endorphins, your body’s “feel good” chemicals.
The challenge with improving your sleep is that tinnitus makes it much more difficult to fall asleep, and in turn, sleep deprivation makes your tinnitus worse. It’s a vicious cycle. But a single good night of sleep can be all it takes to calm your tinnitus back down.
When your tinnitus spikes, follow this comprehensive guide to improve your quality of sleep:
Most tinnitus sufferers will experience bothersome spikes on occasion.
But it doesn’t have to be the torturous experience it used to be. With the right approach, you can speed up the time it takes to quiet back down. You can change the way you react to the sound.
When my tinnitus used to spike, I would always go into panic mode. If new sounds appeared, I would spiral out of control. But today, things are different.
When my tinnitus spikes now, I simply stop whatever I’m doing, close my eyes, and calm myself down. I do whatever it takes to reduce my stress load and I’m usually able to bounce back pretty quickly.
It’s a subtle change, but it makes all the difference in the world, because it breaks the vicious cycle before it can begin.