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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 these days about the challenge of living with chronic ailments like diabetes or high blood pressure, but what about tinnitus? It’s a chronic illness which has a strong emotional component since it affects so many aspects of a person’s life. Tinnitus presents as phantom noises in both ears. Most folks describe the sound as ringing, buzzing, clicking or hissing that no one else can hear.

Tinnitus technically is not an illness but a symptom of an underlying medical issue like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million people in the U.S. deal with on regular basis. The phantom sound will begin at the most inconvenient times, too, like when you are watching a favorite TV show, attempting to read a magazine or listening to a friend tell a terrific tale. Tinnitus can act up even once you try to get some sleep.

Medical science hasn’t quite pinpointed the reason so many folks suffer from tinnitus or how it happens. The accepted theory is that the brain creates this noise to balance the silence that accompanies hearing loss. Regardless of the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing issue. Consider five ways that tinnitus is such a hardship.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent information indicates that individuals who experience tinnitus have increased activity in the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system is the part of the brain responsible for emotions. Until this discovery, most doctors thought that people with tinnitus were stressed and that’s the reason why they were always so emotional. This new theory indicates there is far more to it than just stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus testy and emotionally sensitive.

2. Tinnitus is Hard to Discuss

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 failure to go over tinnitus causes a divide. Even if you are able to tell somebody else, it is not something they truly understand unless they suffer from it for themselves. Even then, they might not have exactly the very same symptoms of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but it means talking to a bunch of people you aren’t comfortable with about something very personal, so it’s not an appealing option to most.

3. Tinnitus is Bothersome

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with noise in the background that you can’t turn down or shut off. It is a diversion that many find debilitating whether they are at home or just doing things around work. The ringing changes your focus making it hard to stay on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and useless.

4. Tinnitus Interferes With Sleep

This is one of the most crucial side effects of tinnitus. The sound tends to get louder when a sufferer is trying to fall asleep. It is not certain why it increases at night, but the most logical explanation is that the lack of sounds around you makes it more noticeable. During the day, other noises ease the sound of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn everything all off when it is time to go to bed.

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

5. There is No Permanent Solution For Tinnitus

Just the idea that tinnitus is something that you have to live with is hard to accept. Though no cure will stop that ringing permanently, a few 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. By way of example, if you hear clicking, maybe the sound is not tinnitus but a sound related to a jaw problem such as TMJ. For many, the cause is a chronic illness that the requires treatment like hypertension.

Lots of people will find their tinnitus is the consequence of hearing loss and dealing with that issue relieves the buzzing. Getting a hearing aid means an increase in the level of sound, so the brain can stop trying to make it to fill in the empty spaces. Hearing loss may also be quick to treat, such as earwax build up. When the physician treats the underlying problem, the tinnitus fades.

In extreme cases, your specialist may try to combat the tinnitus medically. Antidepressants may help reduce the noise, for instance. The doctor may suggest lifestyle changes that should alleviate the symptoms and make life with tinnitus easier, such as using a noise machine and finding ways to manage anxiety.

Tinnitus presents many challenges, but there’s hope. Science is learning more each year about how the brain functions and ways to improve life for those struggling with tinnitus.