Is there ANYTHING positive about tinnitus?

If I asked you right now whether there was anything positive about living with tinnitus, what would you say? Could you think of anything?

Depending on how you’re feeling right now, you may well be struggling! I’m normally a pretty up-beat person, but there are occasional days when I struggle to name some positives of living with an airplane roaring inside my head.

At the Tinnitus UK conference in 2023 Professor Vinaya Manachaiah from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, gave a really interesting talk on research that has been conducted over recent years into the positive side of living with tinnitus. And, yes, it turns out that quite a few people can find one!

Traditional v Positive Psychology
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the research let me quickly outline two different types of psychology – traditional psychology, which most people who have been to counselling or some form of talking therapy will be familiar with, and positive psychology:

  • Traditional psychology looks at what is wrong with an individual and focuses on reducing symptoms.
  • Positive psychology focuses on what is right with an individual, to boost the positive aspects of their life regardless of the challenges they face. The research study discussed by Prof. Manachaiah focused on this psychology, and its application to tinnitus.

Jeremy Loughlin and the team of researchers recognised that while there has been a growing appreciation of, and recognition of, positive psychology among many other chronic health conditions, there has been limited research around the application of it in tinnitus.

In their research they used the Tinnitus Cognitions Questionnaire to measure positive and negative thinking. This is a questionnaire that many of us with tinnitus might not be familiar with, so I’ve linked it here Tinnitus Cognitions Questionnaire. As you will see it asks how often the respondent has certain negative and positive thoughts. As well as using this questionnaire the researchers asked participants to “make a list of any positive effects or outcomes related to having tinnitus, list as many as you can think of.”

If you were asked that question, could you list any positive effects or outcomes relating to having tinnitus?

How many people do you think gave a positive response to the question asked above?

10%? 20%? 30%?

37.4% of the participants reported at least one positive experience, with 17% reporting more than one.

Does that surprise you?

The researchers shuffled the positive experiences into six categories:

1. Outlook: positive experiences that have led to a change in the participants’ way of understanding and thinking. An example response was: “[becoming] more accepting and not trying to fix or change everything that I do not like.”

2. Personal development: positive experiences that describe progress in the participants’ capabilities or attributes. An example response was: “I am more aware of what I can handle.”

3. Coping: positive experiences that arise from successfully managing tinnitus and/or its challenges. An example response was: “I treat the tinnitus as a white noise when sleeping.”

4. Support: positive experiences around giving or receiving assistance. An example response was: “It has made me realise how much friends and family care.”

5. Treatment-related: positive benefits from tinnitus-specific treatment. An example response was: “I have met some really nice people in the tinnitus support group I am in.”

6. Disease-specific: positive experiences that resulted directly or indirectly from having tinnitus itself. An example response was: “I rarely need an alarm clock because the ringing wakes me up by 6am almost every day!”

If you’d like to see if you can find any positive responses for these six categories, I’ve created a blank sheet here List of positive outcomes for you to complete. Why not give it a go – you might surprise yourself!

Some further interesting findings

Finding 1
One clear trend discovered in this and the previous research, was that younger participants were more likely to report positive experiences when compared to older participants. Is it life experience that teaches us to be less positive, or do we become set in our grumpy ways like Victor Meldrew?

Finding 2
Participants with less self-reported hearing disability were more likely to report positive experiences than participants with more self-reported hearing disability. My immediate thought was “well, of course they would. Higher hearing loss can mean more tinnitus distress because there is less ambient noise to mask the tinnitus”. But then I read finding number 3…

Finding 3
The questionnaires showed that the participants reporting positive experiences had pretty much the same level of quality of life, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and tinnitus distress scores as those unable to find anything positive to report. So their positivity wasn’t because their tinnitus had less of an impact on their physical or mental health.

The researchers’ conclusion
I have to admit that the results are probably more helpful to individuals like me who offer tinnitus support than to tinnitus patients. Asking patients to complete the Tinnitus Cognitions Questionnaire as part of our initial assessment could give us valuable insight into their positivity of attitude, their potential ability to manage their tinnitus, and their readiness to move toward acceptance of their condition.

I have interpreted this research to make it accessible to people with tinnitus. Any errors in this article are my own.

Further reading

If you’re interested in reading more about positive psychology, I recommend this very practical book: Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing: The practical guide to using positive psychology to make you happier by Martin Seligman:

Details of the research discussed:

Jeremy Loughlin, Vedas Das, Vinaya Manchaiah, Eldre Beukes, Gerhard Andersson & Giriraj Singh Shekhawat (2023) The positive side of living with tinnitus: a cross-sectional study, International Journal of Audiology,

This research builds upon work done in two previous studies. The first study, Kentala et al (2008) had 121 participants, 41.3% of whom found at least one positive aspect of their tinnitus. The second study, Beukes et al (2018) had 240 participants, 32% of which reported at least one positive experience in their tinnitus journey.