Over 45 million people in this country are impacted by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. Don’t worry, if you have it, you’re not alone. It’s often not clear why people experience tinnitus and there is no cure. For many, the trick to living with it is to come up with ways to manage it. A perfect place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.
Learning About Tinnitus
About one in five people are living everyday hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical issue is the medical definition of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.
Hearing loss is the most common reason people get tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Most of the time, your mind works to translate the sound you hear and then decides 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 only pressure waves. The brain transforms the electrical signals into words that you can comprehend.
Sound is all around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. If the brain doesn’t think a sound is important to you, it filters it out. 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 important that you hear it. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
When someone suffers from certain forms of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The signals never arrive because of injury but the brain still expects them. 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.
Loss of hearing is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:
- TMJ disorder
- Malformed capillaries
- Ear bone changes
- Meniere’s disease
- Acoustic neuroma
- Head injury
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Earwax accumulation
- Neck injury
- Loud noises near you
- High blood pressure
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
As with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Protecting your ears decreases your chance of hearing loss later in life. Tips to protect your ear health include:
- Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
- If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.
- Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
Every few years get your hearing tested, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss issue.
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.
Find out if the sound stops after a while if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.
Evaluate your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing started? Did you, for example:
- Attend a party
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
- Go to a concert
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
The tinnitus is probably short-term if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
Getting an ear exam would be the next thing to do. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
Here are some specific medications that could cause this problem too:
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
- Cancer Meds
The tinnitus may clear up if you make a change.
If there is no evident cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one yourself. Hearing aids can improve your situation and reduce the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.
Because tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause would be the first step. The tinnitus should go away once you take the proper medication if you have high blood pressure.
For some people, the only answer is to live with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to suppress it. A helpful device is a white noise machine. They produce the noise the brain is missing and the ringing stops. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.
Another approach is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that creates a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. You can use this technique to learn not to pay attention to it.
You will also need to look for ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everybody. Write down everything before the ringing started.
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What were you doing?
Tracking patterns is possible in this way. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you had a double espresso each time, you know to get something else in the future.
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 find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.