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

Tinnitus is a condition that affects more than 45 million people in this country, according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not always clear why certain people get tinnitus. For most, the trick to living with it is to come up with ways to deal with it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a good place to start.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people are walking around hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they have tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical problem. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most common reason people get tinnitus is hearing loss. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. A lot of the time, your mind works to interpret the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. As an example, your someone 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.

Sound is everywhere around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. If the brain doesn’t think a sound is important to you, it filters it out. You may not hear the wind blowing, for instance. Because it’s not crucial, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

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

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Roaring
  • Ringing
  • Buzzing

It may be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom sound.

Hearing loss is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:

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

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

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

As with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Protecting your ears decreases your chance of hearing loss later in life. Tricks to protect your ear health include:

  • Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
  • If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
  • Spending less time using headphones or earbuds.

Get your hearing tested every few years, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss problem.

If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms

Ringing doesn’t tell you how or why you got tinnitus, but it does tell you that you have it. You can understand more with a little trial and error.

Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds entirely and see if the sound stops over time.

Assess your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? For example, did you:

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

The tinnitus is probably short-term if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

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

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

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

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

Making a change might clear up the tinnitus.

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

How is Tinnitus Treated?

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.

For some, the only answer is to live with the tinnitus, which means discovering ways to suppress it. A helpful device 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 use a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.

Another strategy is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a device which creates similar tones. You can use this method to learn not to pay attention to it.

Also, staying away from tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everyone. Write down everything before the ringing began.

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

The diary will help you to track patterns. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to get something else next time.

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

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