Over 45 million people in this country are affected by tinnitus 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. Finding ways to manage it is the secret to living with it, for many. A perfect place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.
Getting to Know Tinnitus
About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical issue is the medical description of tinnitus. 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. A lot of the time, your brain works to translate the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. All the sound around you is converted by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only 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. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The signals never come because of damage but the brain still expects them. The brain might attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
The phantom noise might be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
Hearing loss is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Here are some other potential factors:
- Meniere’s disease
- Head injury
- High blood pressure
- Malformed capillaries
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Loud noises around you
- Earwax build up
- Neck injury
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- TMJ disorder
- Ear bone changes
- Acoustic neuroma
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
Prevention is how you avoid a problem as with most things. Decreasing your chances of hearing loss later in life starts with safeguarding your ears now. Tips to protect your hearing health include:
- When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
- If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
Every few years have your hearing checked, also. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to prevent further damage.
If You do Hear The Ringing
Ringing means you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t help you understand why you have it or how you got it. You can understand more with a little trial and error.
See if the sound goes away over time if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.
Assess 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
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Attend a party
- Go to a concert
The tinnitus is probably temporary if you answered yes to any of these situations.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
The next step would be to get an ear exam. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus like:
- Stress levels
- Ear damage
- Ear wax
Here are some particular medications that may cause this issue too:
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
- Cancer Meds
Making a change could get rid of the tinnitus.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other obvious cause. Hearing aids can better your situation and lessen the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.
Since tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step would be to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should fade away.
For some, the only solution is to live with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to control it. White noise machines are helpful. The ringing stops when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. 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 emits similar tones. It can help you learn not to focus on it.
You will also want to look for ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus begins, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.
- What did you eat or drink?
- What sound did you hear?
- What were you doing?
The diary will help you to find patterns. You would know to order something different if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.
Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best chance is finding a way to eliminate it or at least minimize its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.