Over 45 million people in this country are impacted by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. It’s generally not clear why people experience tinnitus and there is no cure. For many, the trick to living with it is to find ways to manage it. An excellent place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.
Learning About Tinnitus
About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical problem. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
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. Most of the time, your brain works to interpret the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. For example, your spouse talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical impulses. The brain translates the electrical signals into words that you can understand.
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. Because it’s not essential, 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.
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 happens.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
The phantom noise may be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
There are other reasons besides hearing loss you might have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:
- High blood pressure
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Meniere’s disease
- Malformed capillaries
- Acoustic neuroma
- TMJ disorder
- Head injury
- Loud noises around you
- Neck injury
- Ear bone changes
- Earwax accumulation
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and can create problems 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. Reducing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with safeguarding your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
- Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- Spending less time using headphones or earbuds.
Get your hearing tested every few years, too. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to lessen further damage.
If You do Hear The Ringing
Ringing means you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t tell you why you have it or how you got it. You can understand more with a little trial and error.
Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds altogether and see if the sound goes away after a while.
Assess your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? For example, did you:
- Go to a concert
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Attend a party
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
If the answer is yes to any of those situations, it’s likely the tinnitus is short-term.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
Having an ear exam would be the next step. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear wax
- Stress levels
- Ear damage
Here are some specific medications which may cause this problem too:
- Cancer Meds
- Quinine medications
- Water pills
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 lessen the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Since tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. The tinnitus should disappear once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.
Looking for a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. White noise machines are helpful. They produce the noise the brain is missing and the ringing stops. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.
Tinnitus retraining is another approach. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a device which creates similar tones. You can use this method to learn not to pay attention to it.
You will also need to determine ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everybody. Write down everything before the ringing started.
- What were you doing?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What sound did you hear?
Tracking patterns is possible in this way. You would know to order something different if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.
Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best hope is finding a way to eliminate it or at least minimize its impact. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.