Over 45 million people in US are impacted by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not always clear why some people get tinnitus. For most, the secret to living with it is to find ways to manage it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a good place to begin.
About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can hear. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical problem. 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 trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. Most of the time, your brain works to translate the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. For example, your spouse talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical signals. The brain transforms the electrical signals into words that you can comprehend.
Sound is all around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. 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.
There are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The signals never arrive because of damage but the brain still waits for 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:
It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.
Loss of hearing is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Here are some other potential causes:
- Malformed capillaries
- Earwax accumulation
- Neck injury
- Tumor in the head or neck
- TMJ disorder
- Acoustic neuroma
- Ear bone changes
- High blood pressure
- Head injury
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Meniere’s disease
- Loud noises around you
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is connected to anxiety and depression and can cause complications like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
Prevention is how you prevent a problem as with most things. Decreasing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with safeguarding your ears now. Tips to protect your ear health include:
- If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.
- Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
- When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
Get your hearing tested every few years, also. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it enables you to get treatment or make lifestyle changes to avoid further damage.
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.
Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds altogether and see if the sound goes away over time.
Evaluate your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? Did you, for instance:
- Attend a party
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
- Go to a concert
If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, it’s likely the tinnitus is short-term.
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:
- Ear wax
- Stress levels
- Ear damage
Here are some particular medications that might cause this problem too:
- Water pills
- Cancer Meds
- Quinine medications
Making a change could get rid of the tinnitus.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other evident cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can lessen the ringing and improve your situation.
Because tinnitus isn’t an illness, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. The tinnitus should disappear once you take the proper medication if you have high blood pressure.
For some people, the only solution is to deal with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to suppress it. White noise machines can be useful. The ringing stops when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.
Another method is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that creates a tone to mask the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you not to focus on it.
You will also want to look for ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everybody. Write down everything before the ringing began.
- What did you eat or drink?
- What sound did you hear?
- What were you doing?
Tracking patterns is possible using this method. 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 lessen its impact or eliminate it is your best hope. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.