Tinnitus is a condition that affects over 45 million people in this country, 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. For many, the secret to living with it is to come up with ways to manage it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to begin.
Getting to Know Tinnitus
About one in five people are walking around hearing noises that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical problem. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.
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. For example, your someone talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear transforms them into electrical signals. The electrical impulses are translated into words you can comprehend 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, as an example. You can feel it, but the brain masks the sound of it passing by your ears because it’s not essential 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 signals never come because of damage but the brain still waits for them. The brain may attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
It may be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom sound.
Hearing loss is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Here are some other possible factors:
- Head injury
- High blood pressure
- Ear bone changes
- Earwax accumulation
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- TMJ disorder
- Acoustic neuroma
- Loud noises near you
- Neck injury
- Malformed capillaries
- Meniere’s disease
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is connected to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
Prevention is how you avoid an issue like with most things. Decreasing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with safeguarding your ears now. Tricks to protect your ear health include:
- Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
- If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.
- Avoiding long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
Every few years get your hearing tested, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle adjustments and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss problem.
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. A little trial and error can help you understand more.
See if the sound stops after a while if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.
Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? For example, did you:
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
- Go to a concert
- Attend a party
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
The tinnitus is most likely temporary if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
The next thing to do would be to have an ear exam. Some potential causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
- Ear wax
Certain medication could cause this issue too like:
- Quinine medications
- Water pills
- Cancer Meds
Making a change may clear up the tinnitus.
If there is no obvious cause, then the doctor can order a hearing test, or you can schedule one on your own. Hearing aids can better your situation and lessen the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Because tinnitus isn’t an illness, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. The tinnitus should go away once you take the proper medication if you have high blood pressure.
Discovering a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. White noise machines are helpful. 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.
Another method is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a device which emits similar tones. You can use this method to learn not to pay attention to it.
Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everyone. When the tinnitus begins, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What were you doing?
The diary will help you to track patterns. You would know to order something different if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so finding ways to minimize its impact or get rid of it is your best hope. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.