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Woman with tinnitus trying to muffle the ringing in her ears with a pillow to overcome challenge.

You hear a lot of talk nowadays about the challenge of living with chronic ailments such as diabetes or high blood pressure, but what about tinnitus? It’s a chronic illness which has a strong emotional component because it affects so many aspects of someone’s life. Tinnitus presents as ghost noises in one or both ears. Most people describe the sound as ringing, hissing, clicking, or buzzing that nobody else can hear.

Tinnitus technically is not an illness but a symptom of an untreated medical problem like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million people from the U.S. deal with on daily basis. The ghost sound will start at the worst possible times, too, like when you’re watching a favorite TV series, trying to read a book or listening to a friend tell a terrific story. Tinnitus can act up even when you attempt to get some sleep.

Medical science hasn’t quite pinpointed the reason so many folks suffer from tinnitus or how it occurs. The accepted theory is that the mind creates this noise to counteract the silence that accompanies hearing loss. Whatever the cause, tinnitus is a life-altering condition. Consider five reasons tinnitus is such a challenge.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent information indicates that individuals who experience tinnitus also have increased activity in their limbic system of the brain. The limbic system is the portion of the brain responsible for emotions. Until this discovery, most doctors believed that people with tinnitus were stressed and that’s why they were always so sensitive. This new research indicates there is much more to it than just stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus more irritable and emotionally fragile.

2. Tinnitus is Tough to Explain

How do you explain to somebody else that you hear weird noises coming from inside your head and not feel crazy once you say it. The helplessness to talk about tinnitus causes a divide. Even if you could tell somebody else, it is not something they truly get unless they suffer from it for themselves. Even then, they may not have exactly the same symptoms of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but that means speaking to a bunch of people that you aren’t comfortable with about something very personal, so it’s not an attractive option to most.

3. Tinnitus is Annoying

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with noise in the background that you can not turn down or turn off. It is a diversion that many find disabling whether they are at the office or just doing things around the home. The ringing shifts your attention which makes it tough to stay on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a real motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and useless.

4. Tinnitus Hinders Sleep

This is one of the most critical side effects of tinnitus. The ringing tends to get worse when a person is attempting to fall asleep. It is unclear why it increases at night, but the most logical reason is that the lack of sounds around you makes it more active. Throughout the day, other noises ease the noise of tinnitus such as the TV, but you turn off everything when it is time to sleep.

Many men and women use a sound machine or a fan at night to help alleviate their tinnitus. Just that little bit of ambient noise is enough to get your brain to lower the volume on the tinnitus and allow you to get some sleep.

5. There is No Magic Cure For Tinnitus

Just the concept that tinnitus is something that you have to live with is hard to accept. Though no cure will stop that ringing permanently, a few things can be done to help you find relief. It starts at the physician’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it’s essential to get a proper diagnosis. For example, if you hear clicking, perhaps the sound is not tinnitus but a sound associated with a jaw problem such as TMJ. For many, the cause is a chronic illness the requires treatment like hypertension.

Many people will discover their tinnitus is the consequence of hearing loss and dealing with that problem relieves the noise they hear. Obtaining a hearing aid means an increase in the level of noise, so the brain can stop trying to create it to fill up the silence. Hearing loss can also be temporary, such as earwax build up. When the physician treats the underlying cause, the tinnitus disappears.

In extreme cases, your specialist may try to reduce the tinnitus medically. Antidepressants may help lower the ringing you hear, as an example. The doctor may suggest lifestyle changes that should alleviate the symptoms and make living with tinnitus simple, like using a sound machine and finding ways to handle anxiety.

Tinnitus presents many struggles, but there is hope. Medical science is learning more every year about how the brain functions and strategies to make life better for those struggling with tinnitus.

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