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. There is no cure, and it’s not necessarily obvious why some people get tinnitus. For many, the secret to living with it is to find ways to deal with it. An excellent place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.
Learning About Tinnitus
About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can. 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 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 mind works to interpret the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. As an example, your friend talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear transforms them into electrical signals. The brain transforms the electrical impulses into words that you can comprehend.
Sound is everywhere 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. 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. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.
There are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The brain waits for them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never come. The brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
It may be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.
There are other reasons besides loss of hearing you could have tinnitus. Here are some other potential factors:
- High blood pressure
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Neck injury
- Ear bone changes
- Earwax build up
- Meniere’s disease
- Loud noises around you
- Malformed capillaries
- Acoustic neuroma
- TMJ disorder
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Head 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
Prevention is how you avoid a problem like with most things. Decreasing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Tips to protect your hearing health include:
- If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
- When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
Every few years have your hearing examined, also. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it enables you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to prevent 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.
See if the sound goes away over time if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.
Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? Did you, for instance:
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Attend a party
- Go to a concert
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
The tinnitus is probably short-term if you answered yes to any of these situations.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away
The next step would be to have an ear exam. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
Here are some particular medications which could cause this issue too:
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
- Cancer Meds
Making a change could 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 reduce the ringing and improve your situation.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Since tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause is the first step. The tinnitus should go away once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.
Discovering a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. White noise machines can be helpful. The ringing stops when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also use a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.
Another strategy is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that delivers a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you not to focus on it.
You will also need to find ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. They are different 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?
The diary will help you to find patterns. Caffeine is a well-known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to get something else next time.
Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best chance 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.