Photo of man tackling tinnitus metaphorically when he's really tackling a quarterback.

Over 45 million people in US are affected by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, don’t worry you are not alone. It’s generally unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. For most, the trick to living with it is to come up with ways to deal with it. A perfect place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Learning About Tinnitus

About one in five people are walking around hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they have tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical problem is the medical description of tinnitus. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most prevalent reason people get tinnitus is loss of hearing. The brain is attempting 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 just sound waves until the inner ear transforms them into electrical impulses. The brain translates the electrical impulses into words that you can comprehend.

You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. If the brain doesn’t think a sound is important to you, it filters it out. For instance, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. Because it’s not crucial, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

When someone develops certain kinds of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The signals never arrive because of damage but the brain still waits for them. The brain might attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Ringing
  • Clicking
  • Hissing

It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.

There are other reasons besides loss of hearing you could have tinnitus. Here are some other potential causes:

  • Ear bone changes
  • Malformed capillaries
  • TMJ disorder
  • High blood pressure
  • Earwax build up
  • Poor blood flow in the neck
  • Neck injury
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Tumor in the head or neck
  • Medication
  • Loud noises near you
  • Head injury

Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and can create complications like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

As with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Reducing your chances of hearing loss later in life starts with protecting your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:

  • Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
  • If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.
  • When you’re at work or at home reduce long term exposure to loud noises.

Get your hearing examined 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 adjustments to lessen 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. A little trial and error can help you understand more.

Find out if the sound goes away over time if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.

Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? Did you, for example:

  • Go to a concert
  • Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
  • Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
  • Attend a party

The tinnitus is most likely short-term if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

Getting an ear exam would be the next thing to do. Your physician will look for potential causes of the tinnitus like:

  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Stress levels
  • Ear wax
  • Ear damage

Here are some particular medications which may cause this problem too:

  • Quinine medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Cancer Meds
  • Water pills
  • Aspirin
  • Antibiotics

Making a change may clear up the tinnitus.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other apparent cause. Hearing aids can better your situation and reduce the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Because tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause would be the first step. The tinnitus should go away once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.

For some people, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to control it. White noise machines can be helpful. The ringing stops when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.

Tinnitus retraining is another strategy. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a device which emits similar tones. It can help you learn not to focus on it.

Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.

  • What sound did you hear?
  • What were you doing?
  • 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 order something else next time.

Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so finding ways to reduce its impact or eliminate it is your best chance. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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