Over 45 million people in US are impacted by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. It’s often unclear why people experience tinnitus and there is no cure. Finding ways to deal with it is the secret to living with it, for many. A perfect place to begin 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 caused by an underlying medical issue is the medical definition of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.
The most common reason people develop tinnitus is loss of hearing. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. A lot of the time, your mind works to translate the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. For example, your friend talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical impulses. The brain translates the electrical impulses into words that you can comprehend.
You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. The brain filters out the sound it doesn’t think is important to you. As an example, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. 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. If you were capable of listening to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The brain expects them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never arrive. The brain may try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
It may be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.
There are other reasons besides hearing loss you might have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:
- High blood pressure
- TMJ disorder
- Earwax build up
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Head injury
- Acoustic neuroma
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Ear bone changes
- Loud noises near you
- Meniere’s disease
- Neck injury
- Malformed capillaries
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression 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 avoid a problem. Decreasing your chances of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
- Avoiding long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
Get your hearing checked every few years, also. 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. A little trial and error can help you understand more.
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 started were you around loud noise? Did you, for example:
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Attend a party
- Go to a concert
If the answer is yes to any of those situations, chances are the tinnitus is temporary.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
The next thing to do would be to have an ear exam. Your physician will look for potential causes of the tinnitus such as:
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
Certain medication could cause this problem too like:
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
- Cancer Meds
The tinnitus may clear up if you make a change.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other evident cause. Hearing aids can better your situation and minimize the ringing, if you do have loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Since tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step would be to treat the cause. The tinnitus should go away once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.
Discovering a way to suppress 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 method is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that delivers a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can help you learn 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 not the same for everybody. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.
- What did you eat or drink?
- What were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
The diary will help you to find patterns. You would know to order something else if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering 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.