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 such as diabetes or high blood pressure, but what about tinnitus? It’s a chronic illness that has a strong emotional component since it affects so many areas of a person’s life. Tinnitus presents as ghost sounds in both ears. Most folks describe the sound as ringing, buzzing, clicking or hissing that no one else can hear.

Tinnitus technically isn’t an illness but a symptom of an underlying medical issue like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million people in the U.S. deal with on daily basis. The ghost sound will begin at the most inconvenient times, too, like when you are watching a favorite TV show, attempting to read a book or listening to a friend tell a great story. Tinnitus can worsen even once you try to go to bed.

Medical science hasn’t quite pinpointed the reason so many folks suffer from tinnitus or how it happens. The accepted theory is that the mind creates this noise to counteract the silence that accompanies hearing loss. Whatever the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing problem. Consider five reasons tinnitus is such a challenge.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent research indicates that people who experience tinnitus have increased activity in their limbic system of their mind. This system is the part of the brain responsible for emotions. Until now, most specialists thought that people with tinnitus were stressed and that’s why they were always so sensitive. This new study indicates there’s much more to it than just stress. There is an organic component that makes those with tinnitus touchy and emotionally delicate.

2. Tinnitus is Tough to Discuss

How do you explain to somebody else that you hear weird noises that they can’t hear and not feel crazy when you say it. The failure to discuss tinnitus causes a disconnect. Even if you could tell someone else, it is not something that they truly get unless they suffer from it for themselves. Even then, they may not have exactly the very same symptoms of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but it means speaking to a lot of people you don’t know about something very personal, so it is not an appealing option to most.

3. Tinnitus is Distracting

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with sound in the background that you can’t turn down or turn off. It is a distraction that many find debilitating if they are at the office or just doing things around the home. The ringing shifts your focus making it tough to remain on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and mediocre.

4. Tinnitus Hampers Sleep

This could be one of the most crucial side effects of tinnitus. The sound tends to get louder when a person is trying to fall asleep. It’s not understood why it increases during the night, but the most logical reason is that the silence around you makes it more active. During the day, other noises ease the noise of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn off everything when it’s time to go to bed.

A lot of people use a sound machine or a fan at night to help alleviate their tinnitus. Just that little bit of background noise is enough to get your brain to reduce the volume on the tinnitus and allow you to fall asleep.

5. There is No Magic Cure For Tinnitus

Just the concept that tinnitus is something you have to live with is hard to accept. Though no cure will stop that ringing for good, a few things can be done to help you find relief. It starts at the physician’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it is vital to get a proper diagnosis. For instance, if you hear clicking, maybe the noise is not tinnitus but a sound related to a jaw problem such as TMJ. For some, the cause is a chronic illness that the requires treatment like hypertension.

Lots of people will find their tinnitus is the consequence of hearing loss and coping with that health problem relieves the noise they hear. Obtaining a hearing aid means an increase in the level of sound, so the brain can stop trying to make it to fill a void. Hearing loss may also be temporary, such as earwax build up. When the physician treats the underlying issue, the tinnitus disappears.

In extreme cases, your physician may attempt to combat the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help lower the noise, as an example. The doctor may suggest lifestyle changes that should ease the symptoms and make life with tinnitus more tolerable, like using a noise machine and finding ways to handle stress.

Tinnitus presents many struggles, but there is hope. Medical science is learning more each year about how the brain works and ways to improve life for those struggling with tinnitus.

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