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The term "tinnitus sufferer" can be used in two senses.  One can suffer from tinnitus in the sense that one experiences tinnitus.  Looking at it that way, there are approximately 50 million tinnitus sufferers in the US today (or approximately 20% of the population).  Of these 50 million, approximately 2.5 million are tinnitus sufferers in another sense - they not only experience tinnitus, but they also find their tinnitus to be to some degree or another debilitating.

For the purpose of this post I am defining a tinnitus sufferer as a person who not only experiences tinnitus but who is to some degree or another debilitated by his or her tinnitus.

The question I wish to address is what it is that causes a person with tinnitus to suffer from that tinnitus.  I believe it is an important question because not only do most people who experience tinnitus not suffer from it, but some people who have the exact same tinnitus pitch, loudness, timbre, etc. might be tinnitus sufferers while others might not.

Following that logic, it cannot be the tinnitus alone that determines the suffering, but to an appreciable degree the reaction of the person with the tinnitus determines the suffering.

I do believe that the louder and more grating a person's tinnitus, the more likely it is that person will suffer.

But I also believe that since in the final analysis suffering is a reaction, the less a person reacts to his or her tinnitus, the less he or she will suffer.  And that is true regardless of the loudness, pitch, timber, etc. of his or her tinnitus.

It is VERY IMPORTANT to realize that a person's reaction to tinnitus is not something that he or she can consciously control.  It is not only incorrect, but it is counterproductive and indeed cruel to imply that a person is in some way weak because he or she suffers from tinnitus.

At the same time, however, there are steps that a tinnitus sufferer - any tinnitus sufferer - can choose to take that can, over time, help to modify his or her reaction to tinnitus.  That principle holds because a major determinant for an individual's reaction to a noxious stimulus is that person's thoughts about the stimulus.  And in the stressed, distressed, or depressed tinnitus sufferer (which is basically all tinnitus sufferers, since suffering is at the very least stressful), his or her thoughts about the tinnitus tend to be based more in emotion and less in reality.

This does not mean that by challenging one's own thoughts about tinnitus, a person can necessarily totally eliminate his or her suffering, but it does mean that by challenging his or her emotion-based thoughts about tinnitus, any tinnitus sufferer can - over time - to some degree or another lessen his or her suffering.  The choice of whether or not to use such a strategy (once made aware of it) is, of course, strictly up to that individual.

So then the last issue - as I see it - is whether or not any given tinnitus sufferer can, over time, lessen his or her suffering to a significant degree.  And from my standpoint as a former tinnitus sufferer, if a person's suffering is lessened to any degree at all, it is significant.

With the above observations in mind, I would like to recommend for your consideration a post by Rob in Denver at and also an article of mine that appeared in Tinnitus Talk, the newsletter of the Australian Tinnitus Association (NSW), at

stephen nagler
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