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

Tinnitus is a condition that impacts more than 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. Don’t worry, if you have it, you’re not alone. It’s often unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. For many, the trick to living with it is to find ways to deal with it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a good place to begin.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical issue. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

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. Most of the time, your brain works to interpret 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 transforms them into electrical signals. The brain transforms the electrical impulses into words that you can understand.

Sound is everywhere around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. 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 important 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 damage in the inner ear, they never come. When that happens, the brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill that space.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Ringing
  • Clicking
  • Roaring
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing

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

Loss of hearing is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:

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

Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Prevention is how you avoid a problem like with most things. Protecting your ears decreases your risk of hearing loss later in life. Tricks to protect your ear health include:

  • Avoiding long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
  • Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
  • Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.

Get your hearing examined every few years, too. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to avoid further damage.

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. A little trial and error can help you understand more.

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

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

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

If the answer is yes to any of those situations, chances are the tinnitus is temporary.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

The next step would be to have an ear exam. Some potential causes your physician will look for are:

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

Certain medication might cause this issue too such as:

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

Making a change may clear up the tinnitus.

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

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Since tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause would be the first step. The tinnitus should go away once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.

For some, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to suppress it. White noise machines are helpful. The ringing goes away when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.

Tinnitus retraining is another approach. You wear a device that creates a tone to mask 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. When the tinnitus begins, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.

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

The diary will help you to track patterns. Caffeine is a 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 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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