Woman with tinnitus trying to muffle the ringing in her ears with a pillow to overcome challenge.

You hear plenty of talk these days about the challenge of living with chronic ailments like diabetes or high blood pressure, but what about tinnitus? It is a chronic illness which has a strong emotional component because it affects so many aspects of someone’s life. Tinnitus presents as phantom sounds in one or both ears. Most folks describe the noise as hissing, clicking, buzzing, or ringing that no one else can hear.

Tinnitus technically is not an illness but a symptom of an underlying medical issue like hearing loss and something that over 50 million individuals in the U.S. deal with on a day to day basis. The ghost sound will start at the most inconvenient times, too, like when you are watching a favorite TV show, attempting to read a magazine or listening to a friend tell a terrific tale. Tinnitus can worsen even when you try to get some rest.

Medical science hasn’t quite pinpointed the reason so many people suffer from tinnitus or how it happens. The accepted theory is that the mind creates this noise to balance the silence that comes with hearing loss. Whatever the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing problem. Consider five ways that tinnitus is such a challenge.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent research indicates that individuals who experience tinnitus have more activity in the limbic system of the mind. The limbic system is the part of the brain responsible for emotions. Until now, most doctors thought that people with tinnitus were worried and that is why they were always so sensitive. This new research indicates there is much more to it than simple stress. There is an organic component that makes those with tinnitus testy and emotionally frail.

2. Tinnitus is Not Easy to Explain

How do you explain to somebody else that you hear weird noises that they can’t hear and not feel crazy when you say it. The inability to go over tinnitus causes a disconnect. Even if you can tell somebody else, it is not something they truly get unless they suffer from it for themselves. Even then, they may not have the same symptoms of tinnitus as you. Support groups are usually available, but it means speaking to a bunch of people that you don’t know about something very personal, so it is not an attractive option to most.

3. Tinnitus is Distracting

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with noise in the background that you can’t escape. It is a distraction that many find disabling whether they are at work or just doing things around the house. The ringing changes your attention making it tough to stay on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a real motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and worthless.

4. Tinnitus Impedes Rest

This could be one of the most critical side effects of tinnitus. The sound will get worse when a sufferer is attempting to fall asleep. It is not certain why it worsens at night, but the most logical explanation is that the lack of sounds around you makes it more noticeable. During the day, other noises ease the noise of tinnitus such as the TV, but you turn everything all off when it’s time to go to bed.

Many people use a sound machine or a fan at night to help relieve their tinnitus. Just that little bit of background sound is enough to get your brain to reduce the volume on your tinnitus and allow you to get some sleep.

5. There is No Quick Fix For Tinnitus

Just the concept that tinnitus is something that you have to live with is tough to come to terms with. Although no cure will shut off that ringing permanently, there are things can be done to help you find relief. It starts at the physician’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it is essential to get a correct diagnosis. For example, if you hear clicking, perhaps the sound isn’t tinnitus but a sound associated with a jaw problem like TMJ. For many, the cause is a chronic illness that the requires treatment like high blood pressure.

Lots of people will find their tinnitus is the result of hearing loss and coping with that problem relieves the noise they hear. Getting a hearing aid means an increase in the level of sound, so the brain can stop trying to make it to fill in the silence. Hearing loss may also be quick to treat, such as earwax build up. When the doctor treats the underlying problem, the tinnitus disappears.

In extreme cases, your physician may try to reduce the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help lower the noise, for instance. The doctor may provide you with lifestyle changes that should ease the symptoms and make living with tinnitus easier, such as using a noise machine and finding ways to handle stress.

Tinnitus presents many challenges, but there is hope. Medical science is learning more every year about how the brain works and strategies to make life better for those struggling with tinnitus.

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