Tinnitus is a condition that impacts over 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re 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 have tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can. The perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical problem is the medical definition of tinnitus. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
Hearing loss is the biggest 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 translate the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. All the sound around is transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s just pressure waves. The electrical impulses are translated into words you can understand by the brain.
Sound is all 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. 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 essential that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.
When someone suffers from certain forms of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The brain expects them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never come. The brain may try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
The phantom noise might be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
Loss of hearing is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:
- High blood pressure
- Head injury
- Earwax build up
- Neck injury
- TMJ disorder
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Loud noises near you
- Meniere’s disease
- Acoustic neuroma
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Ear bone changes
- Malformed capillaries
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and can create problems like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
As with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Reducing your chances of hearing loss later in life starts with safeguarding 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.
- Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
Every few years get your hearing tested, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss issue.
If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms
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.
Find out if the sound stops over time if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.
Evaluate your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? For instance, 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
If the answer is yes to any of those situations, chances are the tinnitus is temporary.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
The next step would be to have an ear exam. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
- Ear wax
Here are some particular medications which could cause this problem too:
- Cancer Meds
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
Making a change might clear up the tinnitus.
If there is no evident 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 lessen the ringing and improve your situation.
Because tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will lower it, and the tinnitus should fade away.
Discovering a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. A helpful tool is a white noise machine. They produce the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing goes away. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.
Tinnitus retraining is another approach. You wear a device that creates a tone to cover up the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you 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 were you doing?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What sound did you hear?
The diary will allow you to track patterns. You would know to order something else if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to lessen its impact or get rid of it is your best chance. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.