Fortunately, most people with chronic tinnitus are not too bothered by it. Many people never seek medical attention for their tinnitus, and many who see a doctor only want to know that their tinnitus is not a harbinger of serious disease or impending deafness.

On the other hand, many patients (tinnitus “sufferers”) say that it is annoying, intrusive, upsetting, and distracting to their daily life

Members of a small tinnitus self-help group were asked to list difficulties they have had as a result of the tinnitus. Among the 72 who responded, the most frequently reported problems were:

  • Getting to sleep (57%)

  • Persistence of tinnitus (49%)

  • Understanding speech (38%)

  • Despair, frustration, or depression (36%

  • Annoyance, irritation, or inability to relax (35%)

  • Poor concentration or confusion (33%)

The persistence of the tinnitus seems to be key. Many state that their tinnitus is not particularly unpleasant except for the fact that, like a dripping faucet, it will not go away. Concerns that the tinnitus is a sign of something serious can make it difficult for some people to ignore their tinnitus, leading to problems with sleep, concentration, and emotion.

The hearing difficulties tinnitus sufferers report are considered to be attributable to their hearing loss rather than to the tinnitus itself.

Many tinnitus sufferers complain of difficulty tolerating external sounds of even moderate intensity, a condition called hyperacusis.

Why do some people with tinnitus become tinnitus sufferers, while others do not? Psychological factors present before the onset of tinnitus may be very important. Many, patients with really bothersome tinnitus are found to have a major depressive disorder. About half of depressed tinnitus patients reported previous episodes of depression, before they ever noticed their tinnitus.

Content is adapted from “Overview: Suffering From Tinnitus,” by Robert A. Dobie, M.D., a chapter in “Tinnitus: Theory and Management,” edited by James B. Snow, Jr., M.D. It appears with permission from Dobie, Snow, and PMPH-USA, the publisher.