Over 45 million people in this country are impacted by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. Don’t worry, if you have it, you’re not alone. It’s generally unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. Discovering ways to deal with it is the secret to living with it, for many. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to begin.
Getting to Know Tinnitus
About one in five people are walking around hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they have tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical issue is the medical description of tinnitus. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
Hearing loss is the biggest reason people develop tinnitus. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. Most of the time, your brain works to translate the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. For example, your spouse talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear transforms them into electrical impulses. The electrical signals are converted into words you can comprehend by the brain.
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. For instance, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. Because it’s not crucial, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
When someone develops certain forms of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The brain waits for them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never come. When that occurs, the brain might try to generate a sound of its own to fill that space.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom sound.
Hearing loss is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:
- Acoustic neuroma
- High blood pressure
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Neck injury
- Loud noises near you
- Malformed capillaries
- Meniere’s disease
- Earwax build up
- Ear bone changes
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- TMJ disorder
- Head injury
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
Prevention is how you avoid a problem like with most things. Protecting your ears reduces your chance of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
- Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- Avoiding long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
Get your hearing tested every few years, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss problem.
If You do Hear The Ringing
Ringing indicates you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t help you understand why you have it or how you got it. You can understand more with a little trial and error.
Avoid wearing headphones or earbuds entirely and see if the sound stops after a while.
Evaluate your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing started? Did you, for example:
- Go to a concert
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Attend a party
The tinnitus is most likely short-term if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
The next thing to do would be to have an ear exam. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus like:
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
Specific medication might cause this problem too like:
- Cancer Meds
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
Making a change might clear up the tinnitus.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other obvious cause. Hearing aids can better your situation and reduce the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.
Because tinnitus isn’t an illness, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step would be to treat the cause. The tinnitus should go away once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.
Finding a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. White noise machines can be useful. They produce the noise the brain is missing and the ringing goes away. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.
Tinnitus retraining is another strategy. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a machine which emits similar tones. You can use this strategy to learn not to pay attention to it.
Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everyone. 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. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to get something else next time.
Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best hope is finding a way to eliminate it or at least minimize its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.