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

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 often unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. For many, the secret to living with it is to find ways to manage it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is an excellent place to start.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people are living everyday hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they have tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical problem is the medical description of tinnitus. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

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 makes the decision as to what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. As an example, your friend talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical impulses. The brain transforms the electrical signals into words that you can comprehend.

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. You may 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 important that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

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

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Ringing
  • Clicking
  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Hissing

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

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

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

Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

As with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Decreasing your chances of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Tips to protect your hearing health include:

  • Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
  • Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
  • If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.

Get your hearing examined every few years, too. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it enables you to get treatment or make lifestyle changes to prevent 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.

Find out if the sound goes away after a while if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.

Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? Did you, for example:

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

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

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

Getting an ear exam would be the next thing to do. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus like:

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

Specific medication may cause this issue too such as:

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

Making a change may clear up the tinnitus.

If there is no obvious cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one on your own. Hearing aids can improve your situation and reduce 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 is the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should go away.

For some people, the only answer is to live with the tinnitus, which means discovering ways to control it. A helpful device 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.

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

Also, staying away from tinnitus triggers is important. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing began.

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

The diary will help you to track patterns. You would know to order something else if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.

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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