Tinnitus is a condition that impacts over 45 million people in this country, according to the National Tinnitus Association. Don’t worry, if you have it, you’re 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 find ways to deal with it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a good place to start.
Learning About Tinnitus
About one in five people are walking around hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical issue is the medical definition of tinnitus. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
The most common reason people develop tinnitus is loss of hearing. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Your brain decides what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. As an example, your spouse talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical impulses. The electrical signals are translated into words you can understand by the brain.
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 essential that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.
When someone develops certain types of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never arrive because of damage but the brain still waits for them. The brain may try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.
Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:
The phantom noise may be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
Hearing loss is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Earwax build up
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- TMJ disorder
- Ear bone changes
- Meniere’s disease
- Malformed capillaries
- High blood pressure
- Loud noises around you
- Neck injury
- Head injury
- Tumor in the head or neck
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
Prevention is how you avoid a problem like with most things. Decreasing your chances of hearing loss later in life begins with safeguarding your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
- Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- Avoiding long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
Every few years have your hearing tested, also. The test not only points out hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle changes to prevent 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.
Avoid wearing headphones or earbuds entirely and see if the sound stops after a while.
Take a close look at your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? Did you, for instance:
- 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
The tinnitus is probably temporary if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
The next thing to do would be to have an ear exam. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus like:
- Stress levels
- Ear damage
- Ear wax
Here are some specific medications that might cause this problem too:
- Cancer Meds
- Quinine medications
- Water pills
Making a change might clear up the tinnitus.
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 isn’t an illness, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step would be to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should fade away.
Looking for a way to suppress tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. A useful tool is a white noise machine. They produce the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing goes away. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.
Another method is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a machine which creates similar tones. You can use this strategy to learn not to pay attention to it.
You will also need to look for ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. They are different for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing began.
- What were you doing?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What sound did you hear?
Tracking patterns is possible using this method. You would know to order something different if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so finding ways to minimize its impact or eliminate it is your best chance. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.