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 which has a strong emotional component because it affects so many aspects of someone’s life. Tinnitus presents as ghost noises in both ears. Most people describe the sound as ringing, hissing, clicking, or buzzing that no one else can hear.

Tinnitus technically is not an illness but a symptom of an underlying medical problem like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million individuals from the U.S. deal with on regular basis. The phantom sound tends to begin at the most inconvenient times, too, like when you’re watching a favorite TV show, trying to read a book or listening to a friend tell a great story. Tinnitus can flare up even once you try to get some rest.

Medical science hasn’t quite pinpointed the reason so many people suffer from tinnitus or how it happens. The current theory is that the brain creates this sound to balance the silence that accompanies hearing loss. Regardless of the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing condition. Consider five ways that tinnitus is such a challenge.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent information indicates that individuals who experience tinnitus also have increased activity in the limbic system of their mind. The limbic system is the portion of the brain responsible for emotions. Up until now, most doctors thought that people with tinnitus were stressed and that’s why they were always so emotional. This new research indicates there’s much more to it than simple stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus touchy and emotionally frail.

2. Tinnitus is Tough to Talk About

How do you explain to someone else that you hear weird noises coming from inside your head and not feel crazy when you say it. The inability to tell others about tinnitus causes a divide. Even if you could tell someone else, it is not something that they truly understand unless they experience it for themselves. Even then, they may not have the same signs of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but it means speaking to a bunch of people that you aren’t comfortable with about something very personal, so it’s not an attractive choice to most.

3. Tinnitus is Annoying

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with sound in the background that you can’t escape. It’s a diversion that many find disabling if they’re at home or just doing things around the office. The noise changes your attention which makes it hard to stay on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a real motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and worthless.

4. Tinnitus Hinders Sleep

This could be one of the most critical side effects of tinnitus. The sound tends to get worse when a person is trying to fall asleep. It is not certain why it worsens during the night, but the most plausible reason is that the lack of sounds around you makes it more active. Throughout the day, other sounds ease the noise of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn everything all off when it is time to sleep.

Many men and women use a noise machine or a fan at night to help alleviate their tinnitus. Just that little bit of background noise is enough to get your mind to lower the volume on the tinnitus and permit you to fall asleep.

5. There’s No Permanent Solution For Tinnitus

Just the concept that tinnitus is something that you have to live with is tough to accept. Though no cure will shut off that ringing for good, there are things can be done to help you find relief. It starts at the physician’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it is essential to get a correct diagnosis. By way of instance, if you hear clicking, maybe the noise isn’t 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.

Many people will find their tinnitus is the result of hearing loss and dealing with that issue relieves the noise they hear. Getting a hearing aid means an increase in the level of noise, so the brain can stop trying to create some sound to fill in the silence. Hearing loss may also be easy to solve, such as earwax build up. When the doctor treats the underlying cause, the tinnitus dulls.

In extreme cases, your physician may attempt to reduce the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help reduce the noise, for instance. The doctor can suggest lifestyle changes that should alleviate the symptoms and make living with tinnitus more tolerable, such as using a noise machine and finding ways to handle anxiety.

Tinnitus presents many challenges, but there’s hope. Medical science is learning more every year about how the brain functions and strategies to make life better for those struggling with tinnitus.

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