How to Manage a Tinnitus Spike (and What Causes Tinnitus Spikes)

I will explain what causes a tinnitus spike, how to prevent a tinnitus spike, and how to manage a tinnitus spike. The key here is to ground the nervous system. There are two kinds of tinnitus spikes. This article will focus on the best ways to manage a tinnitus spike that lasts hours to days.

In today’s article, we’re going to talk about tinnitus spikes. I will explain what causes a tinnitus spike, how you can prevent one, and how to manage one. This article was a user request from James D., who asked if I could cover the different causes of a tinnitus spike.

Dr. Thompson explains the origins of tinnitus spikes and how to manage them.

Will A Tinnitus Spike Go Down?

First, let’s define a tinnitus spike. There are two different kinds. One is transient or short. This type is very high-pitched, and typically comes for less than 20 seconds at a time. It can be in one ear, or it can be in both. This kind of short, transient tinnitus spike gets really loud, and then it drops off, typically in a period of about 20 seconds or less than 30 seconds.

The second kind of tinnitus spike is when you have a prolonged increase in the volume of your tinnitus. In other words your tinnitus, which you experience most of the time, becomes louder or changes in pitch, and that change lasts for a period of hours or sometimes even days.

Most people do experience a short burst of 20 to 30 seconds of louder tinnitus at least once a year. I myself have experienced that, usually every few months. That’s not something to worry about. It has no medical significance. The purpose of this article is to focus on tinnitus spikes that last for hours, or even days. We’re going to talk about what causes them, if it’s possible to prevent them, and finally, how to manage them.

How Do You Reduce Tinnitus Spikes?

The first important point here is to understand your triggers. Typically, tinnitus spikes are caused by certain triggers. Sometimes that can be poor sleep, anxiety, or a stressful period in your life. Sometimes it can be changes to your diet, eating junk food or drinking alcohol, being around a loud event like a concert, or experiencing a surprise loud noise while going through your day. Maybe you live in the city, and as you walked down the street, someone honked a horn right next to your ear. That is an event that might trigger a tinnitus spike for hours or days.

Just remember that it’s not necessarily that you did anything wrong for this spike to happen. There may have been decisions you made, or environments you were in, that contributed to this spike, and that’s what we’re going to figure out. Understanding these different triggers can help you to avoid them in the future. But it’s important to remove the shame or self-pity that can come when we recognize that we’re having a tinnitus spike. Getting out of our negative thinking loops, and the resulting negative feedback loops, is an important part of managing tinnitus.

So, is it possible to prevent a tinnitus spike? Well, this is going to come down to understanding your personal triggers. Again, some of the most common triggers are loud noise, stress, anxiety, feeling depressed, changes to your diet, or poor sleep. But there is hope, because as we’re talking about now, it is possible to prevent some of these tinnitus spikes. The first step is to really understand your triggers, and often the best way to do this is by keeping a journal.

If you have a tinnitus spike, make a note in your journal. What did you do earlier today? What did you do yesterday? How did you sleep? How was your diet? Are you experiencing stress in your life, maybe from family relationships or work? Have you been anxious lately or feeling depressed? Are you exercising? How about communication with your friends and loved ones? Do you feel isolated?

When you journal these kinds of reflections, it’s going to help us understand what’s causing your tinnitus spike. It might take a few sessions of journaling, if you have multiple tinnitus spikes, because it’s not always immediately obvious. But at least this is giving us some data, some information to sort through.

How Long Does A Tinnitus Spike Last?

I want to give an example of someone who shared their tinnitus spike. They noticed that in the mornings, when they’re working at their office job, it’s a very quiet place. They tend to have good energy in the morning. But after lunch and into the afternoon, they noticed that they were getting anxious, feeling restless. Because of that, their tinnitus was spiking and getting louder. Then they noticed their breathing. If you’re feeling anxiety, I always recommend connecting with your body, because oftentimes you’ll find that you’re taking very shallow, short breaths and your shoulders are high and tight. The whole nervous system is on high alert. When we focus on relaxing our breathing, that is us telling the mind, “We are more relaxed than we think; we’re not actually that anxious right now.” I recommend deep breathing through the belly, filling the lungs with oxygen and relaxing the shoulders.

For this particular member of my coaching group, what worked for them is to stand up and take a five-minute break from what they were doing, whatever they were trying to concentrate on. They would take a walk, go outside, and focus on their breathing as they walked, taking deep breaths. Then they would come back to work with that new sense of focus. For them, that is how they were able to manage their tinnitus spikes. They also used their hearing aids to play some soothing sounds, so that even though the tinnitus was louder when they were at their desk, they could still get their job and their work done for the day.

The second example of a tinnitus spike I want to give is of a man who noticed that every few weeks to a month or so, he had a loud period of tinnitus that lasted for about three days. After reflection, he realized that the only abnormal things in his life that might have caused this were some challenging relationships, stressful conversations, and anxiety related to his family, as well as his work demands. He was being overworked, and at the same time he was having some conflict with his spouse. Because of that he would stay up late at night watching TV, which led to poor sleep, and it would create this negative feedback loop. This vicious cycle of having tinnitus, feeling stressed, and getting bad sleep created more stress, more anxiety, and more tinnitus.

It can be hard to get out of that kind of loop. First of all, the best thing to do is be aware of what’s happening. You can do that through a journaling exercise, or just through self-reflection. This man’s tinnitus spikes likely happened because of the stressful circumstances in his life. He can’t necessarily control those. What he can control is to try and go to sleep earlier.

If we want to be in bed asleep by 10pm, then it’s probably best to start planning for sleep by 9pm. Once 9pm hits, everything we’re doing after that is dedicated towards getting ourselves to sleep, so we’re not staying up late watching TV. We can have some impact with our sleep. Of course, there are also other ways to manage stress and anxiety. It just depends on your personal triggers.

Tinnitus Getting Worse Suddenly? What To Do

Now let’s talk about how to manage a tinnitus spike. A tinnitus “spike” implies that you go from a baseline to a high peak, and then back to a baseline. So remember that you’re on this ride, and it will end. To some degree, you have to surrender, release that kind of sharp desire for control over it and just ride out the spike as much as possible. The key here is to ground the nervous system. The auditory nervous system, where the tinnitus is created, is influenced by neighboring areas of our nervous system, especially the emotional brain related to stress and anxiety. They get signals. They’re communicating with the nervous system in our physical body. When I’m taking shallow breaths and my shoulders are tight and my body’s cringed up, it gives my brain and the nervous system in my head this message that I’m on high alert, I’m in fight or flight mode. I am not comfortable and I’m afraid. By controlling your body, you’re sending the message to your mind that you feel safe, you feel calm, you feel grounded. Those are the kind of messages that we want to be reinforcing for ourselves.

Some great ways to ground the nervous system would be deep belly breathing, actually holding your stomach and feeling your stomach rising and falling when you’re taking deep breaths. Physically moving the body can help. Taking a long walk is great, or having a practice in the evening or late mornings of stretching. Physically feeling your muscles and your ligaments, feeling your body stretch, gets us out of our heads and grounds our nervous system as well.

Having some forms of light exercise is another good option. This may mean putting on a video of a guided beginner yoga class or beginner stretching exercise routine. It may also mean doing whatever kind of exercise you enjoy. Maybe that’s running, quick walking, or a bicycle ride–something simple like that.

What To Do When Your Tinnitus Gets Worse

During these tinnitus spikes, it’s important to have access to soothing sounds around you. We’re soothing our body with the grounding practices. But we can also soothe our auditory nervous system. So have some calming, relaxing sounds playing, either through a speaker, or if you have devices like hearing aids, then using sound therapy through your devices or through Bluetooth on your smartphone. Nature sounds are great for this. Other people prefer wind chimes or Chinese flute music. Find what works for you, and always remember that you can come back to these soothing sounds to help ground your physical body and nervous system too.

Another good practice can be to take a hot shower, and when you’re in there, try to use some cold water too. Go from hot to cold. Using a combination of hot and cold water can put our attention back on our physical body, on our skin, on the nervous system in the body. Just like taking a warm bath relaxes us, when we really feel that heat of the water, that’s going to be a positive way to ground our nervous system as well.

Finally, you don’t have to feel alone and isolated while dealing with a tinnitus spike. I want to encourage you to use verbal affirmations. This is a very simple practice. It’s reaffirming to ourselves that we are safe, that we are calm, that this too shall pass. Reminding yourself, telling yourself, saying it in your head, saying it out loud, even writing it down. This too shall pass. This too shall pass.

You can also reach out to a friend or a family member. Oftentimes when we’re stuck in our heads, feeling a headache or a migraine coming on from tinnitus spike, we’re not in our body first, going through these different mind/body grounding techniques. Using the affirmations, playing soothing sounds around us and then reaching out to a friend or loved one does wonders to just get us out of our heads and talking to them.

Thank you to James D. who requested this topic. What strategy do you guys plan to use? Will you go with the verbal affirmations? Do you plan to do some exercise or stretching? Do you want to try the deep belly breathing or meditation? Or do you feel like reaching out to a friend or family member is going to help you out?

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.

Dr. Ben Thompson, Au.D.

Dr. Ben Thompson, Au.D.

Dr. Ben Thompson is an audiologist in California and founder of Pure Tinnitus. Dr. Thompson has a comprehensive knowledge of tinnitus management. He completed his residency at University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and is a past board member of the California Academy of Audiology. Via telehealth, Dr. Thompson provides services to patients with hearing loss and tinnitus.

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