10 things NOT to say to people with tinnitus

Deciding to tell people that we are struggling with tinnitus takes courage. When we do open up, we do so in the hope that we’ll receive understanding and compassion from those we confide in. Most friends, family and colleagues will try to get their heads around this baffling condition that they can neither see nor hear.

But there’s always someone who replies in a way that makes everything feel worse. Here are some responses you might recognise…

The blaming response…
Well, if you hadn’t gone to so many music concerts/turned your headphones up so loud…

The trying-to-be-helpful response
Have you tried yoga/chi gong/chamomile tea/hopi ear candles… it helped my distant cousin…

The invalidating response
At least it’s not cancer. Now, poor John down the road he’s got something to complain about.

The dismissive response
Oh, I’ve got noise in my head too. It doesn’t bother me.

The ‘motivating’ response
You’ve just got to be strong and push through it.

The narcissistic response
You’re no fun like this, you know. I wish you’d never got tinnitus.

The belittling response
It can’t be that bad. Can’t you just distract yourself?

The disbelieving response
Surely you’re over that by now, it has been weeks/months/years!

The critical response
You don’t need that medication; you just need to keep busy.

The cringey response
Everything happens for a reason.

If you receive responses like these, please don’t take them to heart. Sometimes they are clumsy off-the-cuff responses. Sometimes they are said with the intention of hurting (or not caring whether they hurt or not). Regardless of purpose, these comments speak more about the person saying them, than they do you.

If you’re worried about telling someone about your tinnitus, here’s a little game to help with the tension and anxiety: tinnitus bingo!


I sincerely hope you don’t get to fill any of these squares in. But if you do, take heart that these phrases come from the personal experience of myself and many others struggling with tinnitus. Welcome to the tribe!