Photo of man tackling tinnitus metaphorically when he's really tackling a quarterback.

Over 45 million people in this country are affected by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. It’s generally unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. For many, the secret to living with it is to come up with ways to deal with it. An excellent place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Learning About Tinnitus

About one in five people are walking around hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical issue is the medical description of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.

Hearing loss is the most common reason people develop tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Most of the time, your brain works to interpret the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. For example, your someone talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical impulses. The brain transforms the electrical signals into words that you can understand.

Sound is everywhere around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. 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 essential that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

When someone suffers from certain types of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never arrive due to damage but the brain still waits for them. When that occurs, the brain might try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Ringing
  • Roaring
  • Hissing
  • Clicking
  • Buzzing

It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.

There are other reasons besides hearing loss you could have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:

  • Earwax accumulation
  • TMJ disorder
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Loud noises near you
  • Ear bone changes
  • Tumor in the head or neck
  • High blood pressure
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Neck injury
  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Malformed capillaries
  • Head injury
  • Medication
  • Poor blood flow in the neck

Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Prevention is how you avoid an issue as with most things. Protecting your ears reduces your risk of hearing loss later in life. Tips to protect your ear health include:

  • Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
  • When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
  • Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.

Every few years get your hearing examined, too. 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. You can understand more with a little trial and error.

Find out if the sound goes away over time if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.

Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? Did you, for instance:

  • Go to a concert
  • Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
  • Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
  • Attend a party

The tinnitus is most likely short-term if you answered yes to any of these situations.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

Getting an ear exam would be the next step. Your physician will look for potential causes of the tinnitus like:

  • Stress levels
  • Ear wax
  • Ear damage
  • Inflammation
  • Infection

Here are some specific medications which may cause this issue too:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antidepressants
  • Water pills
  • Cancer Meds
  • Aspirin
  • Quinine medications

The tinnitus could clear up if you make a change.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other obvious cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can minimize the ringing and better your situation.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Since tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause would be the first step. The tinnitus should go away once you take the proper medication if you have high blood pressure.

For some people, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to control it. A useful device is a white noise machine. The ringing stops when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.

Tinnitus retraining is another approach. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a machine which emits similar tones. It can help you learn not to focus on it.

Also, staying away from tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everyone. Write down everything before the ringing began.

  • What were you doing?
  • What did you eat or drink?
  • What sound did you hear?

Tracking patterns is possible in this way. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to get something else next time.

Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to minimize its impact or eliminate it is your best chance. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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