Tinnitus is a condition that affects more than 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. It’s generally unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. For most, the secret to living with it is to find ways to manage it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is an excellent place to start.
Getting to Know Tinnitus
About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can. The perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical problem is the medical definition of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.
The most prevalent reason people develop tinnitus is hearing loss. 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. For example, your someone talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear transforms them into electrical impulses. The electrical signals are converted into words you can understand by the brain.
Sound is all around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. If the brain doesn’t think a sound is important to you, it filters it out. You might not hear the wind blowing, for instance. Because it’s not essential, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. If you were capable of listening to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
When someone develops certain types of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never arrive due to 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 happens.
Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:
The phantom noise might be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
Loss of hearing is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Here are some other possible factors:
- Meniere’s disease
- Neck injury
- TMJ disorder
- Earwax accumulation
- Loud noises near you
- Acoustic neuroma
- Malformed capillaries
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Head injury
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Ear bone changes
- High blood pressure
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 a problem as 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:
- 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 examined every few years, also. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to prevent further damage.
If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms
Ringing indicates you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t help you understand why you have it or how you got it. You can understand more with a little trial and error.
See if the sound goes away over time if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.
Assess your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? For instance, did you:
- Go to a concert
- Attend a party
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, it’s likely the tinnitus is temporary.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
Getting an ear exam would be the next step. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus such as:
- Ear damage
- Ear wax
- Stress levels
Here are some particular medications which could cause this problem too:
- Cancer Meds
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
Making a change could get rid of the tinnitus.
If there is no apparent cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one on your own. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can reduce the ringing and better your situation.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Since tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step would be to treat the cause. The tinnitus should go away once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.
For some, the only solution is to live with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to control it. A helpful tool is a white noise machine. They generate the noise the brain is missing and the ringing goes away. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.
Another approach is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that produces a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. You can use this strategy to learn not to pay attention to it.
You will also need to find ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everybody. When the tinnitus begins, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.
- What were you doing?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What sound did you hear?
Tracking patterns is possible using this method. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to order something else in the future.
Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best chance 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.