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

Tinnitus is a condition that affects over 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. It’s generally not clear why people experience tinnitus and there is no cure. For most, the secret to living with it is to find ways to deal with it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to start.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can hear. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical issue. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.

Hearing loss is the most common reason people develop tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Most of the time, your mind works to interpret the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. As an example, your spouse talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear transforms them into electrical impulses. The electrical signals are converted into words you can comprehend by the brain.

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

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

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Ringing
  • Roaring
  • Hissing
  • Clicking
  • Buzzing

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

Hearing loss is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:

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

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

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

  • 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 checked every few years, too. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to avoid further damage.

If You do Hear The Ringing

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.

Find out if the sound goes away over time if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.

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

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

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

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

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

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

Here are some particular medications that could cause this issue too:

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

Making a change might get rid of the tinnitus.

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

Treating Tinnitus

Because tinnitus isn’t an illness, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step would be to treat the cause. The tinnitus should disappear once you take the proper medication if you have high blood pressure.

Looking for a way to suppress tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. White noise machines can be helpful. The ringing goes away when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also use a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.

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

You will also want to determine ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing started.

  • 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 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 minimize its impact. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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