Over 45 million people in US are affected by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. It’s often unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. For most, the trick to living with it is to find ways to deal with it. A perfect place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.
Learning About Tinnitus
About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can hear. The perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical problem 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. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. A lot of the time, your mind works to translate the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. All the sound around you is transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s just pressure waves. The brain translates the electrical signals into words that you can comprehend.
You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. You might not hear the wind blowing, for instance. 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 suffers from certain forms of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The signals never come because of injury but the brain still waits for them. When that happens, the brain might try to generate 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.
Loss of hearing is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Here are some other potential causes:
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Neck injury
- TMJ disorder
- Earwax build up
- Ear bone changes
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Loud noises near you
- High blood pressure
- Acoustic neuroma
- Malformed capillaries
- Head injury
- Meniere’s disease
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and can create problems like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
Prevention is how you prevent an issue like with most things. Protecting your ears decreases your chance of hearing loss later in life. Tips to protect your hearing health include:
- Spending less time using headphones or earbuds.
- When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
- If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
Get your hearing examined every few years, 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 means you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t tell you why you have it or how you got 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 after a while.
Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? For instance, did you:
- 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, chances are the tinnitus is short-term.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
Having 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 specific medications which may cause this issue too:
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
- Cancer Meds
Making a change may clear up the tinnitus.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other obvious cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can lessen the ringing and improve your situation.
Because tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause is the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will lower it, and the tinnitus should go away.
Finding a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. A useful device is a white noise machine. The ringing goes away when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.
Another strategy 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.
Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What were you doing?
The diary will help you to find patterns. You would know to order something different if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.
Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best hope is finding a way to eliminate it or at least minimize its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.