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

Over 45 million people in this country are impacted by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not necessarily clear why certain people get tinnitus. For many, the trick to living with it is to come up with ways to deal with it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a good place to start.

Understanding Tinnitus

About one in five people are walking around hearing noises that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical problem is the medical definition of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.

Hearing loss is the biggest reason people develop tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Your brain makes the decision as to what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. As an example, your friend talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical impulses. The electrical impulses are converted into words you can comprehend by the brain.

Sound is all around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. For instance, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. 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. If you were capable of listening to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.

When someone suffers from certain types of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The brain expects them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never come. When that happens, the brain may try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Clicking
  • Buzzing
  • Ringing
  • Roaring
  • Hissing

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

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

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

Although physically harmless, tinnitus is connected to anxiety and depression and can cause problems like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

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

  • Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
  • Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
  • If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.

Get your hearing examined every few years, also. The test not only points out hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to lessen 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. A little trial and error can help you understand more.

See if the sound stops over time if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.

Take a close look at 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 near an unusually loud noise
  • Attend a party
  • Go to a concert

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

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

The next step would be to get an ear exam. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:

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

Certain medication could cause this issue too such as:

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

Making a change could get rid of the tinnitus.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other evident cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can minimize the ringing and better your situation.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Because tinnitus isn’t an illness, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will lower it, and the tinnitus should fade away.

For some, the only solution is to live with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to control it. A helpful device is a white noise machine. The ringing stops 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.

Another method is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a machine which produces similar tones. It can teach you not to focus on it.

Also, staying away from tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everybody. Write down everything before the ringing started.

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

The diary will help you to find patterns. You would know to order something else if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well 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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