Woman with tinnitus trying to muffle the ringing in her ears with a pillow to overcome challenge.

You hear plenty of talk these days about the challenge of living with chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure, but what about tinnitus? It is a chronic illness that has a strong psychological element because it affects so many areas of someone’s life. Tinnitus presents as ghost sounds in one or both ears. Most people describe the sound as clicking, buzzing, hissing, or ringing that no one else can hear.

Tinnitus technically isn’t an illness but a symptom of an another medical problem like hearing loss and something that over 50 million people in the U.S. deal with on a day to day basis. The ghost sound tends to begin at the worst possible times, too, like when you are watching a favorite TV series, attempting to read a magazine or listening to a friend tell a terrific tale. Tinnitus can act up even once you try to go to sleep.

Medical science has not quite pinpointed the reason so many people suffer with tinnitus or how it occurs. The accepted theory is that the brain creates this noise to counteract the silence that comes with hearing loss. Regardless of the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing issue. Consider five ways that tinnitus is such a problem.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent information indicates that individuals who experience tinnitus also have more activity in the limbic system of their mind. The limbic system is the part of the brain responsible for emotions. Up until this discovery, most doctors thought that people with tinnitus were stressed and that is the reason why they were always so emotional. This new study indicates there’s far more to it than just stress. There is an organic component that makes those with tinnitus touchy and emotionally delicate.

2. Tinnitus is Tough to Discuss

How do you explain to someone else that you hear weird noises coming from inside your head and not feel crazy once you say it. The helplessness to talk about tinnitus is isolating. Even if you are able to tell someone else, it’s not something they truly understand unless they suffer from it for themselves. Even then, they may not have exactly the very same symptoms of tinnitus as you. Support groups are usually available, but it means speaking to a lot of people you aren’t comfortable with about something very personal, so it’s not an attractive option to most.

3. Tinnitus is Bothersome

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with sound in the background that you can not get away from or stop. It is a distraction that many find crippling if they are at the office or just doing things around the house. The noise shifts your focus making it tough to stay on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and useless.

4. Tinnitus Inhibits Rest

This is one of the most critical side effects of tinnitus. The ringing tends to amp up when a person is trying to fall asleep. It’s unclear why it worsens at night, but the most logical explanation is that the lack of sounds around you makes it worse. During the day, other sounds ease the noise of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn everything all off when it is time to sleep.

Many people use a noise machine or a fan at night to help alleviate their tinnitus. Just that little bit of background sound is enough to get your mind to reduce the volume on the tinnitus and permit you to get some sleep.

5. There is No Permanent Solution For Tinnitus

Just the idea that tinnitus is something that you have to live with is hard to come to terms with. Although no cure will shut off that noise for good, a few things can be done to help you find relief. It starts at the physician’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it is essential to get a correct diagnosis. By way of example, if you hear clicking, perhaps the noise isn’t tinnitus but a sound related to a jaw problem such as TMJ. For many, the cause is a chronic illness the requires treatment like hypertension.

Lots of people will discover their tinnitus is the result of hearing loss and coping with that health problem relieves the noise they hear. Getting a hearing aid means an increase in the level of noise, so the brain can stop trying to make it to fill a void. Hearing loss can also be temporary, such as earwax build up. When the physician treats the underlying problem, the tinnitus dulls.

In extreme cases, your specialist may try to reduce the tinnitus medically. Antidepressants may help lower the ringing you hear, for instance. The doctor may suggest lifestyle changes which should alleviate the symptoms and make life with tinnitus easier, like using a noise machine and finding ways to manage stress.

Tinnitus presents many struggles, but there’s hope. Medical science is learning more every year about how the brain works and strategies to improve life for those suffering from tinnitus.

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