Photo of man tackling tinnitus metaphorically when he's really tackling a quarterback.

Tinnitus is a condition that impacts more than 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. Don’t worry, if you have it, you’re not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not absolutely obvious why some people get tinnitus. For most, the trick to living with it is to come up with ways to deal with it. An excellent place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical problem. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

Hearing loss is the most common reason people get tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Your brain decides what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. All the sound around you is converted by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only pressure waves. The electrical impulses are translated into words you can understand by the brain.

You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. You might not hear the wind blowing, as an example. You can feel it, but the brain masks the sound of it passing by your ears because it’s not essential that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The signals never come due to injury but the brain still expects them. The brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Roaring
  • Ringing
  • Buzzing

The phantom noise might be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.

There are other reasons besides hearing loss you could have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:

  • Ear bone changes
  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Poor blood flow in the neck
  • Earwax build up
  • High blood pressure
  • TMJ disorder
  • Tumor in the head or neck
  • Medication
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Neck injury
  • Loud noises around you
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Malformed capillaries
  • Head injury

Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and can cause complications like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

As with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Protecting your ears decreases your risk of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:

  • Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
  • If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
  • When you’re at work or at home reduce long term exposure to loud noises.

Every few years have your hearing checked, too. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it enables you to get treatment or make lifestyle changes to prevent further damage.

If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms

Ringing doesn’t tell you how or why you got tinnitus, but it does tell you that you have it. You can understand more with a little trial and error.

Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds entirely and see if the sound stops after a while.

Assess your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? For instance, did you:

  • Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
  • Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
  • Go to a concert
  • Attend a party

The tinnitus is probably short-term if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

The next step would be to have an ear exam. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus like:

  • Inflammation
  • Infection
  • Ear damage
  • Stress levels
  • Ear wax

Specific medication might cause this issue too such as:

  • Antibiotics
  • Water pills
  • Quinine medications
  • Aspirin
  • Cancer Meds
  • Antidepressants

The tinnitus could go away if you make a change.

If there is no apparent cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one yourself. Hearing aids can improve your situation and lessen the ringing, if you do have loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Because tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause would be the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should fade away.

For some, the only answer is to live with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to control it. A useful tool is a white noise machine. The ringing goes away when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.

Tinnitus retraining is another approach. You wear a device that delivers a tone to mask the frequencies of the tinnitus. You can use this technique to learn not to pay attention to it.

Also, staying away from tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everybody. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.

  • What did you eat or drink?
  • What were you doing?
  • What sound did you hear?

Tracking patterns is possible using this method. You would know to order something else if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.

Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best chance is finding a way to eliminate it or at least reduce its impact. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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