Tinnitus is a condition that affects over 45 million people in this country, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, don’t worry you are not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not necessarily obvious why certain people get tinnitus. Finding ways to deal with it is the trick to living with it, for most. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to begin.
Getting to Know Tinnitus
About one in five people are living everyday hearing noises that no one else can hear because they have tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical problem is the medical definition of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.
Hearing loss is the biggest reason people develop tinnitus. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. A lot of the time, your brain works to interpret the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. All the sound around is transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only pressure waves. The electrical signals are converted into words you can understand by the brain.
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. You may 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 important that you hear it. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
When someone develops certain kinds of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The brain expects them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never come. When that happens, the brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill that space.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
It may be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.
Hearing loss is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Here are some other potential causes:
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- High blood pressure
- Ear bone changes
- TMJ disorder
- Meniere’s disease
- Earwax build up
- Acoustic neuroma
- Malformed capillaries
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Loud noises around you
- Head injury
- Neck injury
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
Like with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Protecting your ears reduces your chance of hearing loss later in life. Tips to protect your hearing health include:
- Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
- Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
Get your hearing checked every few years, also. The test not only alerts you to a 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.
Find out if the sound stops after a while if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.
Assess your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? Did you, for instance:
- Go to a concert
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
- Attend a party
The tinnitus is probably temporary if you answered yes to any of these situations.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
The next step would be to get an ear exam. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus like:
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
Here are some specific medications that might cause this issue too:
- Quinine medications
- Water pills
- Cancer Meds
Making a change may get rid of the tinnitus.
If there is no evident cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one yourself. 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 go away once you take the proper medication if you have high blood pressure.
For some, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to suppress it. White noise machines are useful. They create the noise the brain is missing and the ringing goes away. You can also use a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.
Another approach is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that produces a tone to cover up the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you not to focus on it.
You will also need to determine ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everybody. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.
- What sound did you hear?
- What were you doing?
- What did you eat or drink?
Tracking patterns is possible using this method. You would know to order something different if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to lessen its impact or eliminate it is your best chance. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.