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

Tinnitus is a condition that affects over 45 million people in this country, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not necessarily clear why certain people get tinnitus. Discovering ways to manage it is the secret to living with it, for many. A perfect place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Understanding Tinnitus

About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can hear. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical issue is the medical definition of tinnitus. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

Hearing loss is the biggest reason people develop tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s method 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 just sound waves until the inner ear transforms them into electrical signals. The brain transforms the electrical signals into words that you can understand.

Sound is all around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. The brain filters out the sound it doesn’t think is important to you. You might not hear the wind blowing, for instance. 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. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.

When someone suffers from certain kinds of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The signals never come because of damage but the brain still waits for them. When that happens, the brain might try to generate a sound of its own to fill that space.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Clicking
  • Ringing
  • Hissing
  • Roaring
  • Buzzing

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

There are other reasons besides hearing loss you might have tinnitus. Here are some other potential causes:

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

Although physically harmless, tinnitus is connected to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.

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 begins with safeguarding your ears now. Tips to protect your ear health include:

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

Every few years get your hearing examined, also. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to avoid further damage.

If You do Hear The Ringing

Ringing indicates 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.

Find out if the sound stops after a while if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.

Evaluate your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? Did you, for example:

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

If the answer is yes to any of those situations, it’s likely the tinnitus is temporary.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

Having an ear exam would be the next step. Your physician will look for potential causes of the tinnitus like:

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

Specific medication could cause this issue too like:

  • Quinine medications
  • Antibiotics
  • Water pills
  • Cancer Meds
  • Antidepressants
  • 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. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can minimize the ringing and better your situation.

Treating Tinnitus

Because tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause is the first step. The tinnitus should disappear once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.

Looking for a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. White noise machines are helpful. The ringing stops when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also use a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.

Another strategy is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a device which creates similar tones. It can teach you not to focus on it.

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

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

The diary will allow you to find patterns. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to order something else in the future.

Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best chance is finding a way to eliminate it or at least lessen its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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