Tinnitus is a condition that affects more than 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, don’t worry you are not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not necessarily obvious why certain people get tinnitus. For most, the secret to living with it is to find ways to manage it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to begin.
Getting to Know Tinnitus
About one in five people are living everyday hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical problem is the medical description of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.
The most common reason people get tinnitus is loss of hearing. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. Most of the time, your mind works to interpret the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. All the sound around is converted by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only pressure waves. The brain transforms the electrical impulses into words that you can understand.
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. Because it’s not essential, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
When someone suffers from certain kinds of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never arrive due to injury but the brain still expects them. The brain may attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.
Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:
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 causes:
- High blood pressure
- Loud noises near you
- Meniere’s disease
- Acoustic neuroma
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Neck injury
- Malformed capillaries
- Earwax accumulation
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- TMJ disorder
- Ear bone changes
- Head injury
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and can cause complications like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
Prevention is how you prevent a problem as with most things. Protecting your ears reduces your chance of hearing loss later in life. Tips to protect your hearing health include:
- When you’re at work or at home reduce long term exposure to loud noises.
- Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
Get your hearing examined 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 issue.
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. A little trial and error can help you understand more.
Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds altogether and see if the sound stops after a while.
Evaluate your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? For instance, did you:
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Attend a party
- Go to a concert
The tinnitus is probably temporary if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
Having an ear exam would be the next thing to do. Your physician will look for potential causes of the tinnitus like:
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
- Ear wax
Specific medication might cause this problem too such as:
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
- Cancer Meds
Making a change may clear up the tinnitus.
If there is no apparent cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one on your own. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can reduce the ringing and better your situation.
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 go away.
For some people, the only solution is to deal with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to suppress it. A useful device is a white noise machine. The ringing stops when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. You can also use a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.
Tinnitus retraining is another approach. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a device which produces similar tones. You can use this technique to learn not to pay attention to it.
You will also need to discover ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. They are different for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing started.
- What were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
The diary will allow you to find patterns. You would know to order something else 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 minimize 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.