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. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. It’s generally unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. For most, the secret to living with it is to find ways to manage it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a good place to begin.

Learning About Tinnitus

About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can hear. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical problem. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most prevalent reason people get tinnitus is hearing loss. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Your brain decides 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 signals. The brain translates the electrical impulses into words that you can understand.

You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. The brain filters out the sound it doesn’t think is important to you. You might not hear the wind blowing, as an example. 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. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

When someone develops certain kinds of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never arrive due to injury but the brain still waits for them. The brain may attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Hissing
  • Clicking
  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Ringing

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

Loss of hearing is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Here are some other possible factors:

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

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

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Prevention is how you prevent a problem as with most things. Protecting your ears decreases your chance of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:

  • Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
  • Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
  • Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.

Get your hearing tested every few years, too. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it enables you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to lessen further damage.

If You do Hear The Ringing

Ringing means you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t help you understand why you have it or how you got it. A little trial and error can help you understand more.

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

Take a close look at your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? Did you, for instance:

  • 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

The tinnitus is probably temporary if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

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

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

Specific medication may cause this problem too like:

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

Making a change might clear up the tinnitus.

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

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Because tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause would be the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should disappear.

For some people, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to suppress it. White noise machines can be useful. 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 masked by a machine which creates similar tones. It can teach you not to focus on it.

You will also want to discover ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everybody. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.

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

Tracking patterns is possible in this way. You would know to order something different 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 hope 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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