This article will explain what causes a tinnitus spike, how to prevent a tinnitus spike, and how to manage a tinnitus spike, whether it lasts for hours or days.
Will A Tinnitus Spike Go Down?
There are two different kinds of tinnitus spikes. One kind is transient or short. This kind of spike is very high-pitched, typically increasing in loudness for 20 seconds at a time before dropping off. It can occur in one ear or both.
The second kind involves a prolonged increase in the volume of one’s tinnitus. In other words, one’s tinnitus might become louder or change in pitch, and it might stay this way for a period of hours or even days.
Most people typically experience a transient tinnitus spike at least once a year. My own tinnitus usually experiences these spikes every few weeks. These spikes are not something to worry about, and generally have no medical significance. The purpose of this article is to focus on the kinds of tinnitus spikes that last for hours or even days.
How Do You Reduce Tinnitus Spikes?
The first point to consider when reducing tinnitus spikes is to understand one’s triggers. Triggers typically are poor sleep, anxiety, or stress. They sometimes might even be changes to one’s diet—such as eating junk food or drinking alcohol—or lifestyle—such as attending a loud event like a concert. Spikes may also occur after experiencing a surprise loud noise, such as hearing someone honk their horn close by.
It’s important to remove the shame or self-pity that can come with having a tinnitus spike, and to remember that external factors and the environment might be contributing to it. Nonetheless, understanding these different triggers can help with avoiding them in the future, and also help with managing negative thought loops.
Preventing a possible tinnitus spike comes down to understanding one’s personal triggers. Some of the most common triggers are loud noises, stress, anxiety, depression, and changes to diet and lifestyle. Oftentimes, the best way to understand and keep track of these triggers is by maintaining a journal. If you experience a tinnitus spike, make a note and consider the following: What did you do earlier in the day? What did you do on the previous day? How did you sleep? How was your diet? Were you exposed to any stressors, either from family relationships or from work? Have you experienced any anxiety or depression? Did you exercise? Did you communicate with friends and loved ones? Did you feel isolated? Over time, journaling these kinds of reflections will help with understanding which factors are causing a tinnitus spike.
How Long Does A Tinnitus Spike Last?
A patient of mine shared how they tended to have good energy in the mornings at their quiet office job, but that into the afternoon they developed greater feelings of anxiety and restlessness and, with that, experienced spikes in their tinnitus. With my patients who experience anxiety, I always recommend connecting with the body and noticing if your breathing is shallow and if your shoulders are holding any tightness. By focusing on relaxing our breathing, we are telling the mind, “We are more relaxed than we think; we’re not actually that anxious right now.” I often recommend deep breathing through the belly and relaxing the shoulders as a way of addressing tinnitus spikes triggered by anxiety.
This particular individual found that standing up and taking a five-minute break would help with renewing their focus. They would take a walk outside and focus on their breathing, taking deep breaths through the belly. This is how they were able to best manage their tinnitus spikes. They also used their hearing aids to play soothing sounds, so that even though the tinnitus was louder when working, they could still maintain focus and get their work done for the day.
Another patient of mine shared how every few weeks he would experience a tinnitus spike that lasted for about three days. After reflecting and journaling, he noticed that these periods would be marked by challenging relationships, stressful conversations, family anxiety, and work demands. As a result, he would stay up late at night watching TV, which led to poor sleep and furthered his negative feedback loop. This vicious cycle of tinnitus, stress, and bad sleep ultimately created more stress, more anxiety, and prolonged tinnitus. For this individual, treating a tinnitus spike might involve planning for sleep by 9 pm in order to avoid staying up late watching TV, and thereby preventing his unique personal trigger.
Tinnitus Getting Worse Suddenly? What To Do
A tinnitus “spike” implies going from a baseline to a peak and ultimately returning back to a baseline. Thus, it’s useful to remember that these spikes are temporary and that they will end. To some degree, it is useful to surrender and release any desire for control and instead ride out the spike as much as possible. Another key tip is to ground the nervous system. The auditory nervous system—where the tinnitus originates—is influenced by neighboring areas of the nervous system, especially the emotional parts of the brain that process stress and anxiety. For example, when I’m taking shallow breaths and tightening my shoulders, my body sends the message to my nervous system that I’m uncomfortable and afraid. Thus, by controlling your body you can send the message to your mind that you feel safe, calm, and grounded, and in the process help manage any tinnitus spikes.
A great way to ground the nervous system involves deep belly breathing, where you feel the stomach rise and fall while taking deep breaths. Physically moving the body—whether by exercising, taking a long walk, or stretching—can also do wonders in helping you get out of your head.
What To Do When Your Tinnitus Gets Worse
During tinnitus spikes, it’s important to have access to soothing sounds. Listening to relaxing sounds through a speaker or hearing aids and practicing sound therapy can help immensely. Find what sounds work for you—whether that be nature sounds, wind chimes, or even Chinese flute music—and remember that you can come back to these soothing sounds to help ground your physical body and soothe your auditory nervous system. Another good practice can be to take a hot and cold shower, using changes in temperature to help direct attention back to the physical body and nervous system.
Finally, a very simple practice of verbal affirmations—such as reminding yourself that you are safe, that you are calm, that this too shall pass—can offer immense help. You can even reach out to a friend or a family member, as talking to them can help get you out of your head.
To learn what may help you manage your tinnitus, please download our free 10-page e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Tinnitus Relief. Dr. Thompson also offers online Tinnitus Retraining Therapy with Pure Tinnitus.