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

Over 45 million people in US are affected by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not absolutely clear why some people get tinnitus. For most, the trick to living with it is to come up with ways to manage it. An excellent place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people are walking around hearing noises that no one else can hear because they have tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical problem. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most prevalent reason people develop tinnitus is loss of hearing. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. Your brain decides what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. For example, your someone talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear transforms them into electrical signals. The electrical impulses are converted into words you can understand by the brain.

Sound is all around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. If the brain doesn’t think a sound is important to you, it filters it out. For instance, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. Because it’s not essential, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.

When someone suffers from certain kinds of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The brain expects them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never arrive. When that occurs, the brain might try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Clicking
  • Ringing
  • Hissing

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:

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

Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

Like with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Reducing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with safeguarding your ears now. Tips to protect your hearing health include:

  • Avoiding long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
  • Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
  • Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.

Get your hearing checked every few years, also. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle changes to lessen further damage.

If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms

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

Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds entirely and see if the sound goes away over time.

Evaluate your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? For example, did you:

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

If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, it’s likely the tinnitus is temporary.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

The next thing to do would be to get an ear exam. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus such as:

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

Certain medication may cause this problem too like:

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

Making a change could clear up the tinnitus.

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

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Since tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause would be the first step. The tinnitus should go away once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.

Looking for a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. White noise machines can be useful. The ringing stops when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same effect from a fan or dehumidifier.

Tinnitus retraining is another method. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a machine which emits similar tones. You can use this method to learn not to pay attention to it.

Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. They are different for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing began.

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

The diary will help you to track patterns. You would know to order something different 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 minimize its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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