Over 45 million people in this country are affected by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not absolutely obvious why some people get tinnitus. 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 living everyday hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical issue is the medical definition of tinnitus. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
Hearing loss is the biggest reason people develop tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. Your brain makes the decision as to what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. As an example, your friend talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical impulses. The electrical impulses are translated into words you can understand by the brain.
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. You may not hear the wind blowing, for instance. 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. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.
There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The brain expects them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never arrive. When that occurs, the brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill that space.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
The phantom noise might be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
There are other reasons besides loss of hearing you could have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Ear bone changes
- Neck injury
- TMJ disorder
- Malformed capillaries
- High blood pressure
- Loud noises around you
- Head injury
- Meniere’s disease
- Earwax build up
- Tumor in the head or neck
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is connected to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
Like with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Protecting your ears decreases your chance of hearing loss later in life. Tricks to protect your hearing health include:
- When you’re at work or at home reduce long term exposure to loud noises.
- Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- Spending less time using headphones or earbuds.
Get your hearing checked every few years, too. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss problem.
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. A little trial and error can help you understand more.
See if the sound goes away after a while if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.
Evaluate your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? For example, did you:
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
- Go to a concert
- Attend a party
The tinnitus is probably temporary if you answered yes to any of these situations.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
Getting an ear exam would be the next thing to do. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:
- Stress levels
- Ear damage
- Ear wax
Specific medication might cause this problem too such as:
- Water pills
- Cancer Meds
- Quinine medications
The tinnitus could clear up if you make a change.
If there is no obvious cause, then the doctor can order a hearing test, or you can schedule one on your own. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can reduce the ringing and improve your situation.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Because tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause is the first step. The tinnitus should go away once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.
Looking for a way to suppress tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. White noise machines are useful. The ringing stops when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.
Another method is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a machine which emits similar tones. You can use this method to learn not to pay attention to it.
You will also want to determine ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing began.
- What were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
The diary will allow you to track patterns. You would know to order something different if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to lessen its impact or eliminate it is your best chance. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.