Over 45 million people in US are impacted by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not absolutely obvious why certain people get tinnitus. For many, the secret to living with it is to come up with 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 due to an underlying medical issue. It’s not an illness 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 method of filling in some gaps. Your brain makes the decision as to what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. As an example, your friend talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear transforms them into electrical signals. The brain translates the electrical signals into words that you can comprehend.
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. You might not hear the wind blowing, as an example. 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.
When someone develops certain types of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never come due to damage but the brain still waits for them. The brain may attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.
There are other reasons besides loss of hearing you could have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:
- Neck injury
- Earwax build up
- Loud noises near you
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Ear bone changes
- High blood pressure
- Meniere’s disease
- Acoustic neuroma
- TMJ disorder
- Head injury
- Malformed capillaries
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is connected to anxiety and depression and can cause complications like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
Prevention is how you avoid an issue as 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:
- Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
- Spending less time using headphones or earbuds.
- If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
Get your hearing checked every few years, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss problem.
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.
See if the sound goes away over time if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.
Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? Did you, for instance:
- Attend a party
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Go to a concert
If the answer is yes to any of those situations, it’s likely the tinnitus is short-term.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
Having an ear exam would be the next thing to do. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear damage
- Ear wax
- Stress levels
Here are some particular medications that could cause this problem too:
- Quinine medications
- Cancer Meds
- Water pills
Making a change might get rid of the tinnitus.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other evident cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can lessen the ringing and better your situation.
Since tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause would be the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will lower it, and the tinnitus should fade away.
Finding a way to suppress tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. A helpful tool is a white noise machine. They create the noise the brain is missing and the ringing stops. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.
Tinnitus retraining is another strategy. You wear a device that delivers a tone to mask the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can help you learn not to focus on it.
You will also need to find ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus starts, 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 help you to track patterns. You would know to order something else if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.
Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best hope is finding a way to eliminate it or at least minimize its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.