Over 45 million people in this country are affected by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. It’s generally unclear why people experience tinnitus and there is no cure. Finding ways to deal with it is the secret to living with it, for most. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is an excellent place to begin.
About one in five people are living everyday hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical issue. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.
Hearing loss is the biggest reason people get tinnitus. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. Your brain makes the decision as to what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. For example, your friend talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical signals. The brain translates the electrical signals 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. You may not hear the wind blowing, as an example. 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. 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 because of injury but the brain still waits for them. The brain may try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
The phantom noise may be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
There are other reasons besides loss of hearing you might have tinnitus. Here are some other potential factors:
- Acoustic neuroma
- High blood pressure
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Malformed capillaries
- Neck injury
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- TMJ disorder
- Head injury
- Earwax accumulation
- Ear bone changes
- Meniere’s disease
- Loud noises near you
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and can cause problems like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
Prevention is how you avoid a problem as with most things. Decreasing your risk of hearing loss later in life starts with safeguarding your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
- Spending less time using headphones or earbuds.
- When you’re at work or at home reduce long term exposure to loud noises.
Get your hearing checked every few years, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle adjustments 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. You can understand more with a little trial and error.
See if the sound stops after a while if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.
Evaluate your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? Did you, for instance:
- Attend a party
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Go to a concert
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, chances are the tinnitus is temporary.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
The next thing to do would be to have an ear exam. Some potential causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear damage
- Ear wax
- Stress levels
Here are some specific medications which may cause this issue 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 obvious cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can reduce the ringing and better your situation.
Because tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step would be to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will lower it, and the tinnitus should disappear.
For some people, the only answer is to live with the tinnitus, which means looking for 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 try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.
Another method is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a device which produces similar tones. It can teach you not to focus on it.
You will also need to find ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. They are different for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.
- What were you doing?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What sound did you hear?
The diary will allow you to find patterns. You would know to order something different if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to lessen its impact or eliminate it is your best chance. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.