Managing our tinnitus in cold and flu season

I’ve got a bad head cold at the moment. Get the violins out I hear you cry, at least it’s not Covid-19!

That’s true, and I’m grateful for that. But that doesn’t stop my ears from feeling full of gunk, my balance being off, and the main sound I hear being my blessed tinnitus!

Why does our tinnitus seem to become more intrusive when we have a head cold or flu?

It’s simple mechanics really. When we have a cold or flu our middle ear becomes congested, which makes it hard for the sound waves to travel through the ear. Also, the eustachian tubes in the back of the throat can become blocked and unable to regulate air pressure in the middle ear.

If our hearing is muffled that means everyday sounds which help mask our tinnitus will not be as loud as usual (whether we wear hearing aids or not). Our tinnitus seems louder, and therefore more intrusive, and, of course, feeling unwell can make us miserable and stressed, which makes tinnitus seem worse for many of us.

So, what can we do to help ourselves? Here are some suggestions:

1. Mindfully accept that no matter how grim it is making us feel right now, our cold or flu will be temporary. The worst of the symptoms will be over in a few days, our hearing will start to return and our tinnitus volume return to normal.

We might feel frustrated, annoyed, even worried by the tinnitus noises we’re experiencing. That’s ok, and perfectly normal. What will make the experience far worse is spending our days immersed in worrisome thoughts about how long our tinnitus will be elevated. We have zero control over that. What we can control is what we focus on, focusing on getting through each day the best we can is the healthiest thing we can do for both mind and body.

2. Be kind to ourselves. If we have flu, we’ll be struggling to do much anyway, so we might as well go to bed with Netflix for company. If we have a cold, we probably still have to work but might be able to do our job from home where we can wear cosy clothes, crank the heating up and have lots of throat-soothing warm drinks.

We can also supplement these practical strategies with words of self-compassion. Rather than beating ourselves for being unproductive or struggling with our tinnitus why not acknowledge both how sick we feel right now, and how much of a challenge it is simply to do basic things.

3. I’m not a doctor, but some people find basic pain killers and decongestants can help ease the stuffiness in their ears and eustachian tube, and any sore throat. Ask your local pharmacist for help.

I’m taking my own advice – I’m dressed in my snuggliest jumper, with a steaming pot of coffee beside me and listening to some easy jazz while I type this blog. It has taken me twice as long as normal to write, but I’m not berating myself for my cotton-wool brain, instead I’m congratulating myself for having completed it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch some rubbish TV for an hour to let my brain recover and mask my tinnitus. See you next week!