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. There is no cure, and it’s not always obvious why certain people get tinnitus. Finding ways to manage it is the secret to living with it, for most. An excellent place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people are living everyday hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical issue is the medical description of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.

Hearing loss is the most common reason people develop tinnitus. The brain is trying 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 only pressure waves. The electrical signals are converted into words you can understand by the brain.

Sound is everywhere around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. As an example, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. You can feel it, but the brain masks the sound of it passing by your ears because it’s not crucial that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

When someone suffers from certain forms of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The brain waits for them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never come. When that happens, the brain may try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Hissing
  • Roaring
  • Buzzing
  • Ringing
  • Clicking

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

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

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

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

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

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

  • If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
  • Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
  • Spending less time using headphones or earbuds.

Get your hearing checked every few years, also. The test not only points out hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to lessen further damage.

If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms

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

Avoid wearing headphones or earbuds altogether and see if the sound goes away over time.

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

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

The tinnitus is most likely temporary if you answered yes to any of these situations.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

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

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

Here are some particular medications that may cause this problem too:

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

The tinnitus might clear up if you make a change.

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

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Since tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause would be the first step. The tinnitus should go away once you take the proper medication if you have high blood pressure.

Finding a way to suppress tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. A useful tool is a white noise machine. The ringing goes away when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.

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

You will also want to look for ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. They are different for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing began.

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

The diary will help you to find patterns. You would know to order something different if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.

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

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