Tinnitus is a condition that impacts more than 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. It’s often not clear why people experience tinnitus and there is no cure. For most, the secret to living with it is to find ways to manage it. An excellent place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.
About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical problem is the medical definition of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.
The most prevalent reason people get tinnitus is loss of hearing. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Your brain decides what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. All the sound around you 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. You may not hear the wind blowing, for instance. Because it’s not crucial, 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.
There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The brain waits for them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never arrive. The brain may try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.
Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:
The phantom noise may be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
There are other reasons besides hearing loss you might have tinnitus. Here are some other possible causes:
- Ear bone changes
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Acoustic neuroma
- High blood pressure
- Earwax build up
- Loud noises around you
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Head injury
- Neck injury
- TMJ disorder
- Meniere’s disease
- Malformed capillaries
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
As with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Protecting your ears decreases your risk of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
- Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
Every few years get your hearing examined, 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 means you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t tell you why you have it or how you got it. A little trial and error can help you understand more.
Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds entirely and see if the sound stops over time.
Assess your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? Did you, for example:
- Go to a concert
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Attend a party
If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, it’s likely the tinnitus is short-term.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
The next thing to do would be to have an ear exam. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus like:
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
Here are some particular medications that might cause this problem too:
- Cancer Meds
- Quinine medications
- Water pills
The tinnitus could go away if you make a change.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other apparent cause. Hearing aids can improve your situation and lessen the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.
Since tinnitus isn’t an illness, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step would be to treat the cause. The tinnitus should disappear once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.
Finding a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. A helpful tool is a white noise machine. They produce the noise the brain is missing and the ringing stops. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.
Tinnitus retraining is another method. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a device which creates similar tones. It can help you learn not to focus on it.
You will also want to discover ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everyone. Write down everything before the ringing began.
- What did you eat or drink?
- What sound did you hear?
- What were you doing?
The diary will allow you to track patterns. Caffeine is a well-known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to get something else next time.
Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best hope is finding a way to eliminate it or at least reduce its impact. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.