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

Tinnitus is a condition that affects over 45 million people in this country, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. It’s often not clear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. For many, the secret to living with it is to come up with ways to deal with it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to start.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can hear. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical problem is the medical description of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.

Hearing loss is the biggest reason people get tinnitus. 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 translate the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. For example, your spouse talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical signals. The brain translates the electrical signals into words that you can comprehend.

You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. If the brain doesn’t think a sound is important to you, it filters it out. For instance, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. You can feel it, but the brain masks the sound of it passing by your ears because it’s not crucial that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

There are less electrical impulses 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 come. The brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Roaring
  • Clicking

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

There are other reasons besides hearing loss you could have tinnitus. Here are some other possible causes:

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

Although physically harmless, tinnitus is connected to anxiety and depression and can cause complications like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Prevention is how you prevent a problem like with most things. Reducing your chances of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:

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

Get your hearing checked 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 adjustments to lessen further damage.

If You do Hear The Ringing

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.

Find out if the sound goes away over time if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.

Assess your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? For example, did you:

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

If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, chances are the tinnitus is short-term.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

The next thing to do would be to get an ear exam. Some potential causes your physician will look for are:

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

Certain medication may cause this problem too like:

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

Making a change could get rid of the tinnitus.

If there is no obvious cause, then the doctor can order a hearing test, or you can schedule one on your own. Hearing aids can better your situation and minimize the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.

Treating Tinnitus

Since tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will lower it, and the tinnitus should fade away.

Looking for a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. White noise machines can be useful. They generate the noise the brain is missing and the ringing goes away. You can also use a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.

Tinnitus retraining is another strategy. You wear a device that produces a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. You can use this method to learn not to pay attention to 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 started.

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

The diary will allow you to track patterns. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you had a double espresso each time, you know to order something else in the future.

Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so finding ways to reduce its impact or get rid of it is your best chance. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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