Tinnitus is a condition that affects more than 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. Don’t worry, if you have it, you’re not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not absolutely obvious why certain people get tinnitus. For most, the trick to living with it is to find ways to deal with it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a good place to start.
About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can hear. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical problem. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
The most common reason people develop tinnitus is hearing loss. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. A lot of the time, your brain works to translate 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 translates the electrical impulses into words that you can comprehend.
Sound is everywhere 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. For instance, 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 important that you hear it. If you were capable of listening to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
When someone develops certain types of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The brain expects them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never arrive. The brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.
Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:
It may be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.
There are other reasons besides hearing loss you could have tinnitus. Here are some other potential causes:
- Ear bone changes
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Acoustic neuroma
- High blood pressure
- Malformed capillaries
- Earwax build up
- Meniere’s disease
- TMJ disorder
- Head injury
- Neck injury
- Loud noises around you
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and can create complications like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
Prevention is how you prevent an issue like with most things. Protecting your ears decreases your risk of hearing loss later in life. Tips to protect your hearing health include:
- Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
- Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- 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 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 indicates you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t help you understand why you have it or how you got it. You can understand more with a little trial and error.
Find out if the sound stops after a while if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.
Assess your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing started? Did you, for example:
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Go to a concert
- Attend a party
If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, it’s likely the tinnitus is temporary.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
Getting an ear exam would be the next thing to do. Some potential causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
- Ear wax
Certain medication may cause this problem too like:
- Cancer Meds
- Quinine medications
- Water pills
Making a change might get rid of the tinnitus.
If there is no apparent cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one on your own. Hearing aids can better your situation and reduce the ringing, if you do have loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.
Since tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause is the first step. The tinnitus should go away once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.
Discovering a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. A helpful tool is a white noise machine. They generate the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing stops. You can also get the same effect from a fan or dehumidifier.
Another strategy is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that produces a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you not to focus on it.
Also, staying away from tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everyone. When the tinnitus begins, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.
- What were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
Tracking patterns is possible using this method. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to get something else in the future.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to lessen its impact or get rid of it is your best chance. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.