Tinnitus is a condition that affects over 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. It’s often unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. Finding ways to deal with it is the secret to living with it, for many. An excellent place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.
About one in five people are walking around hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical problem. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
Hearing loss is the biggest reason people develop tinnitus. The brain is attempting to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. Most of the time, your mind works to interpret the sound you hear and then decides 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 converted 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. For instance, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. Because it’s not essential, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. If you were capable of listening to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
There are less electrical impulses 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 might try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
The phantom noise may be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
Loss of hearing is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Here are some other potential factors:
- Head injury
- Neck injury
- Malformed capillaries
- Acoustic neuroma
- High blood pressure
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Meniere’s disease
- TMJ disorder
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Earwax build up
- Loud noises around you
- Ear bone changes
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
Like with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Decreasing your chances of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Tricks to protect your ear health include:
- When you’re at work or at home reduce long term exposure to loud noises.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
- Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.
Every few years have your hearing tested, too. The test not only points out hearing loss problem, but it enables you to get treatment or make lifestyle changes to lessen further damage.
If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms
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.
Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds entirely and see if the sound goes away over time.
Take a close look at your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? Did you, for instance:
- Attend a party
- Go to a concert
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, chances are the tinnitus is short-term.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
The next step would be to get an ear exam. Some potential causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
Here are some specific medications which could cause this issue too:
- Quinine medications
- Water pills
- Cancer Meds
Making a change may clear up the tinnitus.
If there is no evident cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one on your own. Hearing aids can better your situation and reduce the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Since tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause is the first step. The tinnitus should disappear once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.
Discovering a way to suppress tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. White noise machines are helpful. They generate the noise the brain is missing and the ringing goes away. You can also get the same effect from a fan or dehumidifier.
Another approach is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that produces a tone to cover up the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you not to focus on it.
You will also want to determine ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everybody. Write down everything before the ringing began.
- What were you doing?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What sound did you hear?
The diary will allow you to find patterns. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you had a double espresso each time, you know to order something else next time.
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 find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.