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

Tinnitus is a condition that affects more than 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, don’t worry you are 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 come up with ways to manage it. A perfect place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Understanding Tinnitus

About one in five people are living everyday hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they have tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical problem is the medical description of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.

The most common reason people develop tinnitus is hearing loss. The brain is attempting 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 transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s just pressure waves. The brain transforms the electrical impulses into words that you can comprehend.

Sound is everywhere around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. If the brain doesn’t think a sound is important to you, it filters it out. For instance, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. 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 signals for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The brain waits for them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never come. The brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Clicking
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Roaring
  • Ringing

The phantom noise might be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.

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

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

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

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

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

  • Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
  • Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
  • Avoiding long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.

Every few years get your hearing examined, too. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss issue.

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. A little trial and error can help you understand more.

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

Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? For example, did you:

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

If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, it’s likely the tinnitus is short-term.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

Getting an ear exam would be the next step. Your physician will look for potential causes of the tinnitus such as:

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

Certain medication may cause this issue too like:

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

The tinnitus may go away if you make a change.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other obvious cause. Hearing aids can better your situation and lessen 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 is the first step. The tinnitus should go away once you take the proper medication if you have high blood pressure.

Discovering 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 try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.

Tinnitus retraining is another approach. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a device which emits similar tones. You can use this method to learn not to pay attention to it.

Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. They are different for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.

  • 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 else if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.

Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so finding ways to reduce its impact or get rid of it is your best hope. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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