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. There is no cure, and it’s not always obvious why certain people get tinnitus. Finding ways to deal with it is the trick to living with it, for most. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to start.
Learning About Tinnitus
About one in five people are living everyday 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 description of tinnitus. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
The most prevalent reason people get tinnitus is loss of hearing. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. Your brain decides what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. For example, your spouse talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical signals. The electrical signals are converted into words you can comprehend by the brain.
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. For instance, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. Because it’s not important, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
There are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The brain waits for them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never arrive. When that takes place, the brain may try to generate a sound of its own to fill that space.
Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:
It may be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom sound.
Loss of hearing is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Here are some other possible factors:
- Meniere’s disease
- Loud noises near you
- TMJ disorder
- Acoustic neuroma
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Head injury
- Ear bone changes
- Malformed capillaries
- Neck injury
- High blood pressure
- Earwax accumulation
- Poor blood flow in the neck
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is connected 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 prevent an issue like with most things. Decreasing your chances of hearing loss later in life starts with protecting your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
- Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
Every few years get your hearing checked, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss issue.
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.
Find out if the sound stops after a while if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.
Evaluate your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? For instance, did you:
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Go to a concert
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
- Attend a party
The tinnitus is probably temporary if you answered yes to any of these situations.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
The next step would be to get an ear exam. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear wax
- Stress levels
- Ear damage
Specific medication might cause this problem too such as:
- Quinine medications
- Cancer Meds
- Water pills
Making a change could clear up the tinnitus.
If there is no apparent cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one yourself. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can minimize the ringing and improve your situation.
Since tinnitus isn’t a disease, 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 lower it, and the tinnitus should disappear.
For some people, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to control it. White noise machines are useful. The ringing stops when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.
Another method is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a machine which produces similar tones. You can use this method to learn not to pay attention to it.
Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everybody. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.
- What were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
Tracking patterns is possible using this method. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you had a double espresso each time, you know to get something else next time.
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.