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

Over 45 million people in US are affected by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, don’t worry you are not alone. It’s often unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. Discovering ways to manage it is the secret to living with it, for most. A perfect place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people are living everyday hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical issue is the medical definition of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.

Hearing loss is the most common reason people get tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. A lot of the time, your brain works to translate the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. For example, your spouse talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical signals. The electrical signals are translated into words you can understand by the brain.

Sound is everywhere around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. You may not hear the wind blowing, as an example. You can feel it, but the brain masks the sound of it passing by your ears because it’s not essential that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The brain expects them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never arrive. When that takes place, the brain may try to create a sound of its own to fill that space.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Ringing
  • Clicking
  • Roaring
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing

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

Hearing loss is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Here are some other possible factors:

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

Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and can cause complications like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

Prevention is how you prevent an issue as with most things. Protecting your ears decreases your risk of hearing loss later in life. Tricks to protect your hearing health include:

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

Get your hearing examined every few years, 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 means 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 altogether and see if the sound stops after a while.

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

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

The tinnitus is most likely temporary if you answered yes to any of these situations.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

Getting an ear exam would be the next step. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:

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

Here are some particular medications that could cause this problem too:

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

The tinnitus could go away if you make a change.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other evident cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can lessen the ringing and better your situation.

Treating Tinnitus

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

For some people, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to control it. A useful tool is a white noise machine. The ringing stops when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.

Another approach is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that produces a tone to mask the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you not to focus on it.

You will also need to find ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus begins, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.

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

The diary will help you to find patterns. You would know to order something different if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.

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 find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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