Tinnitus is a condition that affects more than 45 million people in this country, 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 many, the secret to living with it is to come up with ways to deal with it. An excellent place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.
About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can hear. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical issue 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 get 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 decides if you need to know about it. For example, your friend talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical signals. 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 may not hear the wind blowing, for instance. 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.
There are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The signals never come due to 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:
The phantom noise may be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
There are other reasons besides loss of hearing you could have tinnitus. Here are some other possible factors:
- Loud noises near you
- TMJ disorder
- Meniere’s disease
- Neck injury
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Head injury
- Earwax accumulation
- Malformed capillaries
- High blood pressure
- Ear bone changes
- Acoustic neuroma
- Poor blood flow in the neck
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and can cause problems like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
As with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Decreasing your risk of hearing loss later in life starts with safeguarding your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
- Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
- Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
Get your hearing tested 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 do Hear The Ringing
Ringing indicates you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t help you understand why you have it or how you got it. A little trial and error can help you understand more.
See if the sound stops over time if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.
Take a close look at 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
If the answer is yes to any of those situations, chances are the tinnitus is short-term.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
Getting an ear exam would be the next step. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:
- Stress levels
- Ear damage
- Ear wax
Here are some specific medications which may cause this problem too:
- Cancer Meds
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
Making a change could clear up the tinnitus.
If there is no evident cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one on your own. Hearing aids can better your situation and lessen the ringing, if you do have loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.
Since tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause is the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should fade away.
For some people, the only solution is to deal with the tinnitus, which means discovering ways to control it. White noise machines are helpful. The ringing goes away when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.
Another strategy is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a machine which creates similar tones. It can teach you not to focus on it.
You will also want to look for ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. 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 were you doing?
- What did you eat or drink?
Tracking patterns is possible in this way. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to order something else next time.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to lessen its impact or get rid of it is your best hope. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.