Over 45 million people in US are impacted by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. Don’t worry, if you have it, you’re not alone. It’s often unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. For many, the secret to living with it is to find ways to deal with it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to begin.
Learning About Tinnitus
About one in five people are living everyday hearing noises that no one else can hear because they have tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical issue. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
The most common reason people get tinnitus is loss of hearing. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. A lot of the time, your brain works to interpret the sound you hear and then determines 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 brain translates the electrical signals into words that you can comprehend.
You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. As an example, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. 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 impulses for the brain to interpret. The brain waits for them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never arrive. The brain may try 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 noise.
Loss of hearing is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Here are some other possible factors:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Head injury
- Malformed capillaries
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- TMJ disorder
- High blood pressure
- Ear bone changes
- Earwax accumulation
- Meniere’s disease
- Neck injury
- Loud noises near you
- Tumor in the head or neck
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and can create problems like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
Prevention is how you prevent a problem like with most things. Decreasing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
- If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
- When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
Get your hearing examined 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 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 stops over time.
Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? For instance, did you:
- Attend a party
- Go to a concert
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
The tinnitus is probably temporary if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
Having an ear exam would be the next step. Some potential causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear wax
- Stress levels
- Ear damage
Specific medication could cause this issue too such as:
- Cancer Meds
- Quinine medications
- Water pills
Making a change could clear up the tinnitus.
If there is no obvious cause, then the doctor can order a hearing test, or you can schedule one yourself. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can reduce the ringing and better your situation.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Since tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step would be to treat the cause. The tinnitus should disappear once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.
For some people, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to suppress it. A helpful device is a white noise machine. They create the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing stops. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.
Another method is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that creates a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. You can use this strategy to learn not to pay attention to it.
Also, staying away from tinnitus triggers is important. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.
- What were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
Tracking patterns is possible using this method. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you had a double espresso each time, you know to order something else in the future.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to minimize 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.