Over 45 million people in US are affected by tinnitus 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. Finding ways to manage it is the trick to living with it, for many. A perfect place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.
Getting to Know Tinnitus
About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can hear. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical issue is the medical definition of tinnitus. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
The most common reason people get tinnitus is loss of hearing. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. Your brain decides what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. For example, your spouse talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear transforms them into electrical impulses. The electrical signals are translated into words you can comprehend by the brain.
Sound is everywhere around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. 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 crucial that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.
There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The signals never arrive due to damage but the brain still waits for them. When that takes place, the brain might try to generate a sound of its own to fill that space.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
The phantom noise might be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
Hearing loss is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Here are some other possible factors:
- Earwax accumulation
- Malformed capillaries
- Ear bone changes
- High blood pressure
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- TMJ disorder
- Head injury
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Loud noises near you
- Acoustic neuroma
- Neck injury
- Meniere’s disease
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
Prevention is how you prevent a problem as with most things. Protecting your ears decreases your chance of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
- When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
Every few years have your hearing tested, too. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it enables you to get treatment or make lifestyle changes to prevent further damage.
If You do Hear The Ringing
Ringing doesn’t tell you how or why you got tinnitus, but it does tell you that you have it. You can understand more with a little trial and error.
Avoid wearing headphones or earbuds entirely and see if the sound goes away after a while.
Evaluate your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? Did you, for example:
- Attend a party
- Go to a concert
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
The tinnitus is most likely temporary if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
The next thing to do would be to have an ear exam. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
Here are some specific medications that might cause this issue too:
- Cancer Meds
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
Making a change may clear up the tinnitus.
If there is no evident cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one yourself. Hearing aids can better your situation and reduce the ringing, if you do have loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Because tinnitus isn’t an illness, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should disappear.
For some, the only answer is to live with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to suppress it. White noise machines are useful. The ringing goes away when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.
Another strategy is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a machine which emits similar tones. You can use this strategy to learn not to pay attention to it.
You will also want to look for ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everybody. Write down everything before the ringing began.
- What were you doing?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What sound did you hear?
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 minimize its impact or get rid of it is your best hope. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.