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Woman with tinnitus trying to muffle the ringing in her ears with a pillow to overcome challenge.

You hear a lot of talk nowadays about the challenge of living with chronic ailments like high blood pressure or diabetes, but what about tinnitus? It is a chronic illness which has a strong emotional component since it affects so many aspects of a person’s life. Tinnitus presents as ghost sounds in one or both ears. Most people describe the noise as hissing, clicking, buzzing, or ringing that nobody else can hear.

Tinnitus technically isn’t an illness but a symptom of an underlying medical problem like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million individuals in the U.S. deal with on daily basis. The ghost sound tends to begin at the most inconvenient times, too, like when you’re watching a favorite TV series, attempting to read a book or listening to a friend tell a great story. Tinnitus can act up even once you try to go to bed.

Medical science hasn’t quite pinpointed the reason so many people suffer from tinnitus or how it happens. The accepted theory is that the mind creates this sound to counteract the silence that accompanies hearing loss. Regardless of the cause, tinnitus is a life-altering problem. Consider five reasons tinnitus is such a problem.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent information indicates that individuals who experience tinnitus also have more activity in the limbic system of their brain. The limbic system is the portion of the brain responsible for emotions. Up until now, most specialists believed that people with tinnitus were worried and that’s why they were always so sensitive. This new research indicates there is far more to it than just stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus more irritable and emotionally delicate.

2. Tinnitus is Tough to Talk About

How do you explain to somebody else that you hear weird noises that they can’t hear and not feel crazy when you say it. The helplessness to go over tinnitus causes a divide. Even if you can tell somebody else, it is not something that they truly can relate to unless they suffer from it for themselves. Even then, they may not have exactly the same signs of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but that means talking to a lot of people that you don’t know about something very personal, so it’s not an attractive option to most.

3. Tinnitus is Bothersome

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with noise in the background that you can’t get away from or stop. It’s a distraction that many find disabling whether they are at home or just doing things around the office. The ringing changes your focus making it hard to remain on track. The inability to concentrate that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, which makes you feel lethargic and useless.

4. Tinnitus Inhibits Rest

This is one of the most critical side effects of tinnitus. The sound will amp up when a sufferer is trying to fall asleep. It is not certain why it worsens at night, but the most plausible explanation is that the lack of sounds around you makes it more active. Throughout the day, other sounds ease the noise of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn everything all off when it is time to sleep.

Many people use a noise machine or a fan at night to help relieve their tinnitus. Just that little bit of background sound is enough to get your mind to reduce the volume on your tinnitus and allow you to fall asleep.

5. There’s No Quick Fix For Tinnitus

Just the concept that tinnitus is something you have to live with is tough to come to terms with. Though no cure will shut off that ringing permanently, there are things can be done to help you find relief. It starts at the doctor’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it is vital to get a correct diagnosis. For instance, if you hear clicking, maybe the noise isn’t tinnitus but a sound related to a jaw problem such as TMJ. For some, the cause is a chronic illness the requires treatment like high blood pressure.

Lots of people will find their tinnitus is the consequence of hearing loss and coping with that issue relieves the noise they hear. Getting a hearing aid means an increase in the level of noise, so the brain can stop trying to create some sound to fill in the silence. Hearing loss may also be easy to solve, such as earwax build up. Once the doctor treats the underlying problem, the tinnitus disappears.

In extreme cases, your specialist may attempt to treat the tinnitus medically. Antidepressants may help lower the noise, for instance. The doctor can suggest lifestyle changes that should ease the symptoms and make living with tinnitus more tolerable, like using a noise machine and finding ways to manage anxiety.

Tinnitus presents many challenges, but there’s hope. Medical science is learning more every year about how the brain works and strategies to make life better for those struggling with tinnitus.