Over 45 million people in this country are affected by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. It’s often not clear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. For most, the trick to living with it is to find ways to manage it. A perfect place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.
Getting to Know Tinnitus
About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can hear. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical problem. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.
Hearing loss is the most common 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 translate the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. For example, your spouse talking to you is just 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 noise it doesn’t think is important to you. As an example, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. 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 kinds of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never arrive due to injury but the brain still waits for them. When that happens, the brain may try to generate a sound of its own to fill that space.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom sound.
There are other reasons besides hearing loss you could have tinnitus. Here are some other potential causes:
- Malformed capillaries
- Acoustic neuroma
- TMJ disorder
- Neck injury
- Ear bone changes
- Loud noises near you
- Meniere’s disease
- Earwax accumulation
- High blood pressure
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Head injury
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is connected to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
As with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Protecting your ears reduces your chance of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
- If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.
Get your hearing examined every few years, too. The test allows you to make lifestyle adjustments 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.
See if the sound goes away 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 instance:
- Go to a concert
- Attend a party
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
The tinnitus is most likely short-term if you answered yes to any of these situations.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
The next step would be to get an ear exam. Some potential causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
- Stress levels
Certain medication may cause this problem too like:
- Water pills
- Cancer Meds
- Quinine medications
Making a change could clear up the tinnitus.
If there is no obvious 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 loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.
Because tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. 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 deal with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to control it. White noise machines can be helpful. They generate the noise the brain is waiting for 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 delivers a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. You can use this method to learn not to pay attention to it.
You will also want to look for ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everybody. When the tinnitus begins, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.
- What were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
- 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 get something else in the future.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to lessen its impact or get rid of it is your best hope. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.