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

Over 45 million people in US are impacted by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. It’s generally unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. For many, the trick to living with it is to find ways to manage it. An excellent place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Learning About Tinnitus

About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can hear. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical issue is the medical definition of tinnitus. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

Hearing loss is the biggest reason people develop tinnitus. 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. All the sound around you is converted by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only pressure waves. The brain transforms the electrical impulses into words that you can comprehend.

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 may not hear the wind blowing, for instance. You can feel it, but the brain masks the sound of it passing by your ears because it’s not crucial that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

When someone suffers from certain types of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never come due to damage but the brain still expects them. The brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Hissing
  • Clicking
  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Roaring

It may be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.

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

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

Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

As with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Reducing your chances of hearing loss later in life starts with safeguarding your ears now. Tricks to protect your hearing health include:

  • Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
  • When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
  • If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.

Get your hearing tested every few years, too. The test allows you to make lifestyle adjustments and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss problem.

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.

Find out if the sound stops after a while if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.

Evaluate 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
  • Go to a concert
  • Attend a party
  • Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise

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

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

Having an ear exam would be the next thing to do. Your physician will look for potential causes of the tinnitus like:

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

Specific medication could cause this issue too such as:

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

The tinnitus could go away if you make a change.

If there is no evident cause, then the doctor can order a hearing test, 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?

Since 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 lower it, and the tinnitus should disappear.

For some, the only solution is to live with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to control it. White noise machines can be helpful. They produce the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing stops. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.

Tinnitus retraining is another method. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a machine which emits similar tones. It can teach you not to focus on it.

You will also need to determine ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. They are different for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing started.

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

Tracking patterns is possible in this way. You would know to order something different if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.

Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to lessen its impact or eliminate it is your best chance. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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