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 necessarily clear why certain people get tinnitus. For many, the trick to living with it is to find ways to manage it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a good place to begin.
Learning About Tinnitus
About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can hear. 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.
The most common reason people develop tinnitus is hearing loss. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. Most of the time, your mind works to translate the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. All the sound around you is transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only pressure waves. 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 might 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 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 has hearing loss. The brain expects them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never arrive. The brain may attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.
Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:
The phantom noise might be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
There are other reasons besides loss of hearing you might have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:
- TMJ disorder
- Ear bone changes
- Meniere’s disease
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Acoustic neuroma
- High blood pressure
- Head injury
- Neck injury
- Loud noises around you
- Earwax accumulation
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Malformed capillaries
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and can cause complications like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
Like with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Protecting your ears reduces your chance of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
- Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- Avoiding long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
Get your hearing tested every few years, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss problem.
If You do Hear The Ringing
Ringing doesn’t tell you how or why you got tinnitus, but it does tell you that you have it. A little trial and error can help you understand more.
Find out if the sound goes away 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 instance, did you:
- Attend a party
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
- Go to a concert
If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, chances are the tinnitus is temporary.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
Getting an ear exam would be the next step. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus such as:
- Stress levels
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
Here are some particular medications that might cause this problem too:
- Cancer Meds
- Quinine medications
- Water pills
The tinnitus might go away if you make a change.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other apparent cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can minimize the ringing and improve your situation.
Since tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause is the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should disappear.
Discovering a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. White noise machines are useful. They generate the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing stops. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.
Another approach is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that creates a tone to mask the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you not to focus on it.
Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everyone. Write down everything before the ringing started.
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What were you doing?
Tracking patterns is possible in this way. You would know to order something else if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.
Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best chance is finding a way to eliminate it or at least lessen its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.