Tinnitus is a condition that impacts 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 some people get tinnitus. Discovering ways to deal with it is the secret to living with it, for most. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is an excellent place to start.
Getting to Know Tinnitus
About one in five people are living everyday hearing noises that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical problem. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
The most common reason people get tinnitus is loss of hearing. The brain is attempting to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. A lot of the time, your brain works to interpret the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. For example, your spouse talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical impulses. The brain translates the electrical signals into words that you can understand.
You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. The brain filters out the sound it doesn’t think is important to you. For instance, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. Because it’s not essential, 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 impulses for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The brain expects them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never arrive. The brain might attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.
There are other reasons besides hearing loss you could have tinnitus. Here are some other possible causes:
- High blood pressure
- Meniere’s disease
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Acoustic neuroma
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Earwax accumulation
- Head injury
- Loud noises around you
- Malformed capillaries
- Neck injury
- Ear bone changes
- TMJ disorder
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
Prevention is how you avoid an issue like with most things. Decreasing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
- Avoiding long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
Get your hearing tested every few years, too. 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.
See if the sound goes away after a while 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 began? For example, did you:
- Go to a concert
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
- Attend a party
The tinnitus is most likely temporary 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:
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
- Ear wax
Here are some specific medications that could cause this issue too:
- Cancer Meds
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
The tinnitus may clear up if you make a change.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other apparent cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can lessen the ringing and improve your situation.
Since tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause is the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will lower it, and the tinnitus should disappear.
Finding a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. White noise machines can be useful. The ringing stops 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.
Another strategy is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a machine which produces similar tones. It can help you learn not to focus on it.
You will also need to discover ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. They are different for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus begins, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.
- What did you eat or drink?
- What were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
The diary will allow you to find patterns. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you had a double espresso each time, you know to get something else in the future.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to reduce its impact or get rid of it is your best hope. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.