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 diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure, but what about tinnitus? It is a chronic illness which has a strong emotional component since it affects so many aspects of someone’s life. Tinnitus presents as ghost sounds in one or both ears. Most people describe the sound as ringing, hissing, clicking, or buzzing that no one else can hear.

Tinnitus technically is not an illness but a symptom of an another medical issue like hearing loss and something that over 50 million people in the U.S. deal with on regular basis. The phantom sound will start at the worst possible times, too, like when you are watching a favorite TV show, trying to read a book or listening to a friend tell a great tale. Tinnitus can worsen even when you try to go to sleep.

Medical science has not quite pinpointed the reason so many people suffer with tinnitus or how it happens. The accepted theory is that the mind creates this sound to balance the silence that comes with hearing loss. Whatever the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing issue. Consider five reasons tinnitus is such a challenge.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent information indicates that individuals who experience tinnitus also have increased activity in the limbic system of their mind. The limbic system is the portion of the brain responsible for emotions. Up until now, most doctors believed that people with tinnitus were worried and that’s the reason why they were always so sensitive. This new theory indicates there’s far more to it than simple stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus snappy and emotionally frail.

2. Tinnitus is Hard to Talk About

How do you explain to somebody else that you hear weird noises coming from inside your head and not feel crazy once you say it. The inability to go over tinnitus causes a divide. Even if you can tell somebody else, it is not something they truly understand unless they suffer from it for themselves. Even then, they might not have the very same signs of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but that means speaking to a lot of people that you aren’t comfortable with about something very personal, so it is not an appealing option to most.

3. Tinnitus is Distracting

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with sound in the background that you can’t escape. It’s a distraction that many find crippling if they are at the office or just doing things around the home. The noise shifts your focus making it hard to stay on track. The inability to concentrate that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, which makes you feel lethargic and unworthy.

4. Tinnitus Hinders Sleep

This could be one of the most crucial side effects of tinnitus. The sound tends to get worse when a person is trying to fall asleep. It’s not certain why it increases during the night, but the most logical explanation is that the silence around you makes it worse. Throughout the day, other sounds ease the sound of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn off everything when it’s when you lay down for the night.

A lot of people use a noise machine or a fan at night to help relieve their tinnitus. Just that little bit of background noise is enough to get your mind to reduce the volume on your tinnitus and permit you to get some sleep.

5. There is No Cure For Tinnitus

Just the idea that tinnitus is something that you have to live with is tough to accept. Though no cure will shut off that ringing permanently, a few things can be done to assist you find relief. It starts at the doctor’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it’s essential to get a proper diagnosis. For example, if you hear clicking, perhaps the sound is not tinnitus but a sound related to a jaw problem like TMJ. For many, the cause is a chronic illness that the requires treatment like hypertension.

Many people will discover their tinnitus is the result of hearing loss and dealing with that problem relieves the buzzing. Obtaining a hearing aid means an increase in the amount of noise, so the brain can stop trying to create it to fill in the silence. Hearing loss can also be quick to treat, such as earwax build up. When the doctor treats the underlying issue, the tinnitus disappears.

In extreme cases, your physician may try to reduce the tinnitus medically. Antidepressants may help lower the ringing you hear, for instance. The doctor may suggest lifestyle changes which should alleviate the symptoms and make life with tinnitus more tolerable, like using a noise machine and finding ways to manage stress.

Tinnitus presents many struggles, but there’s hope. Science is learning more each year about how the brain functions and ways to make life better for those struggling with tinnitus.

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