Over 45 million people in US are affected by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. It’s often not clear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. Discovering ways to deal with it is the secret to living with it, for many. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to start.
Getting to Know Tinnitus
About one in five people are walking around hearing noises that no one else can hear because they have 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 most common reason people get tinnitus. 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. As an example, your friend talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear transforms them into electrical impulses. The brain transforms 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. As an example, 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 crucial that you hear it. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
There are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The brain waits for them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never arrive. When that happens, the brain might try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom sound.
There are other reasons besides loss of hearing you could have tinnitus. Here are some other potential factors:
- High blood pressure
- Head injury
- TMJ disorder
- Acoustic neuroma
- Earwax accumulation
- Neck injury
- Malformed capillaries
- Meniere’s disease
- Loud noises near you
- Ear bone changes
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Tumor in the head or neck
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
Like with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Decreasing your chances of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
- If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
Get your hearing tested every few years, also. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it enables you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to prevent further damage.
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.
Find out if the sound goes away over time if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.
Assess your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? For example, did you:
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
- Go to a concert
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Attend a party
The tinnitus is most likely short-term if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
The next thing to do would be to have an ear exam. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:
- Stress levels
- Ear damage
- Ear wax
Certain medication may cause this issue too like:
- Quinine medications
- Water pills
- Cancer Meds
Making a change might clear up the tinnitus.
If there is no evident cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one yourself. Hearing aids can improve your situation and lessen the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Since tinnitus isn’t an illness, 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 bring it down, and the tinnitus should fade away.
Looking for a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. White noise machines can be useful. The ringing goes away when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.
Tinnitus retraining is another strategy. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a machine which produces similar tones. It can help you learn not to focus on it.
Also, staying away from tinnitus triggers is important. They are different for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing started.
- What did you eat or drink?
- What were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
The diary will allow you to track patterns. Caffeine is a well-known trigger, so if you had a double espresso each time, you know to get something else in the future.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering 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.