Tinnitus is a condition that affects more than 45 million people in this country, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. It’s often unclear why people experience tinnitus and there is no cure. For most, the trick to living with it is to come up with ways to manage it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to start.
Learning About Tinnitus
About one in five people are walking around hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they have tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical issue. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.
The most common reason people develop tinnitus is hearing loss. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. A lot of the time, your brain works to translate the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. For example, your spouse talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical impulses. The brain translates the electrical impulses into words that you can understand.
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. As an example, 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 important that you hear it. If you were capable of listening 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 expects them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never arrive. When that occurs, the brain may try to generate a sound of its own to fill that space.
Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:
It might 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 potential factors:
- Loud noises around you
- Ear bone changes
- Earwax build up
- TMJ disorder
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Acoustic neuroma
- Head injury
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Malformed capillaries
- High blood pressure
- Neck injury
- Meniere’s disease
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
As with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Decreasing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with safeguarding your ears now. Tips to protect your ear health include:
- When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
- If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
Get your hearing checked every few years, too. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it enables you to get treatment or make lifestyle changes to avoid further damage.
If You do Hear The Ringing
Ringing means you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t tell you why you have it or how you got it. A little trial and error can help you understand more.
Avoid wearing headphones or earbuds altogether and see if the sound goes away over time.
Take a close look at your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? Did you, for instance:
- Go to a concert
- Attend a party
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
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
Getting an ear exam would be the next step. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:
- Stress levels
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
Specific medication might cause this issue too like:
- Cancer Meds
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
Making a change could clear up 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.
Because tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause is the first step. The tinnitus should go away once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.
For some, the only solution is to deal with the tinnitus, which means discovering ways to suppress it. A useful device is a white noise machine. The ringing stops when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.
Another strategy is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that produces a tone to cover up the frequencies of the tinnitus. You can use this technique to learn not to pay attention to it.
Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everyone. Write down everything before the ringing started.
- What were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
Tracking patterns is possible in this way. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you had a double espresso each time, you know to get something else next time.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so finding ways to reduce its impact or get rid of it is your best hope. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.