Handling Tinnitus in the Workplace

Tinnitus is a perceived ringing in the ears when no actual sound is present. The condition can also be described as a clicking, whistling, swooshing, buzzing, or hissing sound. No matter the exact type of sound that a tinnitus patient perceives, there is no doubt that the condition can be a frustrating one. In serious cases, it can even become debilitating and can derail a person’s daily routines.
While you may most often think of how tinnitus would affect your home life–such as trying to sleep when all you can think about is the ringing in your ears–the condition can also have a tremendous impact on your professional life. In a 2018 survey conducted by Tinnitus Hub, participants were asked how tinnitus had affected their job prospects. 55.3 percent responded that they felt their tinnitus had not affected their career prospects, while the remaining 44.7 percent said that the condition had impacted their job in one way or another.
Of the 1,800 respondents, 17.7 percent reported they had not been able to pursue career progression due to tinnitus. 10.99 percent responded that they were struggling at work and were considering giving up their work due to tinnitus. 9.6 percent had struggled with work so severely that they gave up working. A small percentage, 6.38 percent, replied that their tinnitus had driven them to succeed more.
One of the big ways tinnitus affects a person’s professional life is causing trouble focusing. The constant perceived sound creates difficulties for a person in being able to focus on their work. In order to focus on anything, a person with tinnitus must push the constant noise in their head to the background. Among respondents to the survey noted above, 41 percent reported that tinnitus affected their concentration mildly, 33 percent said it had a moderate effect, and 20 percent responded that tinnitus severely affected their concentration.
Severe tinnitus is often accompanied by anxiety as well, which can also disrupt your work and make it difficult to focus on tasks. Furthermore, the anxiety and stress that often accompany tinnitus can be exacerbated when employers, managers, or coworkers do not properly understand or appropriately respond to the condition. People without tinnitus may not understand its severity, and some who suffer from tinnitus are even made fun of by coworkers. This can make the work environment even more stressful. Some employers may not be willing to make accommodations for tinnitus patients or may not know how to accommodate the condition.
The work environment itself may present further challenges for those who suffer from tinnitus. Noisy environments can cause spikes in tinnitus. Jobs with very loud environments, such as military, law enforcement, pilots, construction, manufacturing, or the music industry, can pose serious risks and problems for tinnitus patients. Even environments with a normal noise level, such as an office, school, call center, or restaurant, can lead to spikes in tinnitus and can be harmful. This is especially true for tinnitus sufferers who also experience increased sound sensitivity (hyperacusis).
If you are struggling with tinnitus in the workplace, consider being more open with your employer about your challenges and how you could be better accommodated in order to help you succeed. In some cases, it may be necessary to switch to a less demanding career. In others, you may become accustomed to tinnitus in the coming weeks or months, which could allow you to better perform at your job.
For their part, employers should make every effort to accommodate those who suffer from tinnitus or other hearing problems. If a person with tinnitus suffers from extreme anxiety, it may be appropriate for the employee to take sick leave or a period of absence. For less severe cases, consider allowing small accommodations like using headphones to minimize outside noise or provide white noise.
To learn more about how to handle tinnitus in the workplace and how to better manage the condition, we encourage you to contact our hearing professionals today.


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