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

Tinnitus is a condition that affects over 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, don’t worry you are not alone. It’s generally not clear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. 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 an excellent place to begin.

Learning About Tinnitus

About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can hear. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical issue. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most common reason people develop tinnitus is loss of hearing. The brain is attempting 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. All the sound around is transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only pressure waves. The brain translates the electrical impulses into words that you can understand.

You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. You may not hear the wind blowing, as an example. Because it’s not important, 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.

There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The signals never come due to damage but the brain still waits for them. When that takes place, the brain might try to generate a sound of its own to fill that space.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Ringing
  • Clicking
  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Hissing

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

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

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

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

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

As with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Reducing your chances of hearing loss later in life begins with safeguarding your ears now. Tips to protect your ear health include:

  • Reducing the amount of time you spend using 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 tested every few years, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle adjustments and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss issue.

If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms

Ringing indicates you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t help you understand why you have it or how you got it. A little trial and error can help you understand more.

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

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

  • 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

If the answer is yes to any of those situations, it’s likely the tinnitus is short-term.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

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

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

Here are some particular medications which could cause this issue too:

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

The tinnitus could clear up if you make a change.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other apparent cause. Hearing aids can better your situation and reduce the ringing, if you do have loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

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

Looking for a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. White noise machines can be useful. The ringing stops when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.

Tinnitus retraining is another strategy. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a machine which emits similar tones. It can teach you not to focus on it.

You will also need to find ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. They are different for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.

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

Tracking patterns is possible in this way. You would know to order something different if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.

Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best hope is finding a way to eliminate it or at least lessen its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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