Tinnitus is a condition that impacts more than 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, don’t worry you are not alone. It’s generally unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. Discovering ways to manage it is the trick to living with it, for many. A perfect place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.
About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can. The perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical issue is the medical definition of tinnitus. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
Hearing loss is the biggest reason people get tinnitus. The brain is attempting to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. A lot of the time, your mind works to interpret the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. As an example, your spouse talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical impulses. The electrical signals are translated into words you can understand by the brain.
You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. The brain filters out the sound it doesn’t think is important to you. 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. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.
When someone develops certain types of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The signals never arrive because of damage but the brain still expects them. The brain may try 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.
Hearing loss is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Loud noises around you
- Acoustic neuroma
- Malformed capillaries
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Neck injury
- Meniere’s disease
- High blood pressure
- Head injury
- Earwax build up
- TMJ disorder
- Ear bone changes
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
Prevention is how you prevent a problem like with most things. Reducing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Tricks to protect your ear health include:
- Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
- Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
Every few years get your hearing tested, too. The test not only points out hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to avoid 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 after a while.
Assess your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? For example, did you:
- Attend a party
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
- Go to a concert
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
If the answer is yes to any of those situations, it’s likely the tinnitus is short-term.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
The next thing to do would be to get an ear exam. Your physician will look for potential causes of the tinnitus like:
- Stress levels
- Ear damage
- Ear wax
Certain medication could cause this issue too like:
- Quinine medications
- Cancer Meds
- Water pills
Making a change may get rid of the tinnitus.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other obvious cause. Hearing aids can improve your situation and minimize the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.
Because tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause would be the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should disappear.
For some people, the only solution is to live with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to control 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 mask the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can help you learn not to focus on it.
Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing started.
- What were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
The diary will help you to track patterns. You would know to order something different if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so finding ways to reduce its impact or eliminate it is your best hope. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.