Over 45 million people in this country are affected by tinnitus 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 obvious why some people get tinnitus. For most, 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.
Learning About 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 due to an inherent medical issue. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness 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. 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 signals. The brain translates the electrical signals into words that you can comprehend.
Sound is all 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, as an example. 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. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The signals never come due to injury but the brain still waits for them. When that takes place, the brain might try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.
Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:
The phantom noise may be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
There are other reasons besides loss of hearing you might have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:
- Earwax build up
- High blood pressure
- Malformed capillaries
- Loud noises near you
- Neck injury
- Ear bone changes
- Meniere’s disease
- Head injury
- TMJ disorder
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Acoustic neuroma
- Tumor in the head or neck
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is connected to anxiety and depression and can create complications like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
Prevention is how you prevent an issue as with most things. Protecting your ears decreases your risk of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
- If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.
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 do Hear The Ringing
Ringing doesn’t tell you how or why you got tinnitus, but it does tell you that you have it. A little trial and error can help you understand more.
Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds altogether and see if the sound goes away after a while.
Evaluate your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? For example, did you:
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
- Attend a party
- Go to a concert
The tinnitus is probably short-term if you answered yes to any of these situations.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
Getting an ear exam would be the next step. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus like:
- Stress levels
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
Specific medication may cause this issue too such as:
- Water pills
- Cancer Meds
- Quinine medications
Making a change might get rid of the tinnitus.
If there is no apparent cause, then the doctor can order a hearing test, or you can schedule one yourself. Hearing aids can improve your situation and lessen the ringing, if you do have loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.
Since tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause would be the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should disappear.
For some, the only solution 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 replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.
Tinnitus retraining is another approach. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a machine which emits similar tones. It can teach you not to focus on it.
Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.
- What did you eat or drink?
- What were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
Tracking patterns is possible in this way. Caffeine is a well-known trigger, so if you had a double espresso each time, you know to get something else next time.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to lessen its impact or eliminate it is your best hope. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.