Over 45 million people in this country are affected by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. It’s generally unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. Discovering ways to manage it is the secret to living with it, for most. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is an excellent place to begin.
Getting to Know Tinnitus
About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can. The perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical problem 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 develop tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Most of the time, your brain works to translate the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. All the sound around is converted by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s just pressure waves. The brain transforms the electrical signals into words that you can comprehend.
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 crucial, 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 signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never come because of damage but the brain still expects 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:
It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.
Loss of hearing is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:
- Meniere’s disease
- TMJ disorder
- Neck injury
- Malformed capillaries
- Acoustic neuroma
- Ear bone changes
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Earwax build up
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- High blood pressure
- Head injury
- Loud noises near you
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
As with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Protecting your ears decreases your risk of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
- When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
Every few years get your hearing tested, too. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss issue.
If You do Hear The Ringing
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.
Avoid 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 example, did you:
- Attend a party
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
- Go to a concert
The tinnitus is most likely short-term if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
Getting an ear exam would be the next step. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus such as:
- Stress levels
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
Here are some specific medications which may cause this problem too:
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
- Cancer Meds
Making a change could get rid of the tinnitus.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other apparent cause. Hearing aids can better your situation and lessen the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Since tinnitus isn’t an illness, 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, the only solution is to live with the tinnitus, which means discovering ways to control it. White noise machines are useful. They produce the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing stops. You can also get the same effect from a fan or dehumidifier.
Tinnitus retraining is another strategy. You wear a device that delivers 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. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everyone. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.
- What did you eat or drink?
- What sound did you hear?
- What were you doing?
The diary will allow you to track patterns. Caffeine is a well-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 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.