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Woman with tinnitus trying to muffle the ringing in her ears with a pillow to overcome challenge.

You hear plenty of talk nowadays about the challenge of living with chronic diseases like high blood pressure or diabetes, but what about tinnitus? It is a chronic illness that has a strong emotional component since it affects so many areas of a person’s life. Tinnitus presents as phantom sounds in one or both ears. Most people describe the sound as ringing, buzzing, clicking or hissing that no one else can hear.

Tinnitus technically isn’t an illness but a symptom of an untreated medical problem like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million individuals from the U.S. deal with on a day to day basis. The phantom sound will begin at the worst possible times, too, like when you’re watching a favorite TV show, trying to read a magazine or listening to a friend tell a terrific story. Tinnitus can act up even when you attempt to go to bed.

Medical science has not quite pinpointed the reason so many people suffer with tinnitus or how it happens. The current theory is that the brain creates this sound to balance the silence that accompanies hearing loss. Whatever the cause, tinnitus is a life-altering condition. Consider five ways that tinnitus is such a challenge.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent research indicates that individuals who experience tinnitus have increased activity in the limbic system of the brain. This system is the part of the brain responsible for emotions. Until this discovery, most specialists believed that people with tinnitus were worried and that’s the reason why they were always so sensitive. This new theory indicates there’s much more to it than just stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus touchy and emotionally frail.

2. Tinnitus is Not Easy to Talk About

How do you explain to somebody else that you hear weird noises that don’t exist and not feel crazy once you say it. The inability to talk about tinnitus causes a divide. Even if you are able to tell somebody else, it’s not something they truly can relate to unless they experience it for themselves. Even then, they may not have the same signs of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but that means speaking to a lot of people that you don’t know about something very personal, so it’s not an attractive choice to most.

3. Tinnitus is Bothersome

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with sound in the background that you can not get away from or stop. It’s a diversion that many find disabling whether they’re at work or just doing things around the home. The noise shifts your attention which makes it hard to remain on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a real motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and useless.

4. Tinnitus Interferes With Rest

This could be one of the most crucial side effects of tinnitus. The ringing tends to get worse when a person is trying to fall asleep. It is unclear why it worsens during the night, but the most logical explanation is that the lack of sounds around you makes it more active. During the day, other sounds ease the sound of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn everything all off when it is time for bed.

Many men and women 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 brain to lower the volume on the tinnitus and permit you to fall asleep.

5. There’s No Cure For Tinnitus

Just the concept that tinnitus is something that you have to live with is hard to accept. Though no cure will stop that noise permanently, there are things can be done to assist you find relief. It starts at the physician’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it is vital to get a correct diagnosis. For instance, if you hear clicking, perhaps the sound is not tinnitus but a sound associated with a jaw problem such as TMJ. For many, the cause is a chronic illness that the requires treatment like high blood pressure.

Lots of people will discover their tinnitus is the result of hearing loss and coping with that problem relieves the buzzing. Getting a hearing aid means an increase in the amount of sound, so the brain can stop trying to create some sound to fill in the silence. Hearing loss can also be temporary, such as earwax build up. When the doctor treats the underlying problem, the tinnitus disappears.

In extreme cases, your doctor may attempt to combat the tinnitus medically. Antidepressants may help reduce the ringing you hear, for instance. The doctor may suggest lifestyle changes that should alleviate the symptoms and make living with tinnitus simple, like using a noise machine and finding ways to handle stress.

Tinnitus presents many challenges, but there is hope. Medical science is learning more every year about how the brain works and ways to improve life for those struggling with tinnitus.