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 generally unclear why people experience tinnitus and there is no cure. Finding ways to deal with it is the secret to living with it, for most. A perfect place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.
About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical problem is the medical description of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.
Hearing loss is the biggest reason people develop tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Your brain decides what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. As an example, your someone talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical signals. The electrical signals are converted into words you can understand by the brain.
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. You may not hear the wind blowing, as an example. Because it’s not crucial, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. If you were capable of listening to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
When someone develops certain types of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The brain waits for them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never arrive. When that occurs, the brain might try to generate a sound of its own to fill that space.
Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:
It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.
There are other reasons besides loss of hearing you might have tinnitus. Here are some other potential causes:
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Ear bone changes
- Meniere’s disease
- Acoustic neuroma
- TMJ disorder
- Head injury
- Neck injury
- High blood pressure
- Loud noises around you
- Malformed capillaries
- Earwax accumulation
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is connected to anxiety and depression and can cause problems like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.
Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention
Prevention is how you avoid a problem as with most things. Protecting your ears decreases your risk of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
- Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
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 issue.
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 stops over time if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.
Assess your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? Did you, for example:
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
- Go to a concert
- Attend a party
If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, it’s likely the tinnitus is temporary.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
Getting an ear exam would be the next step. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:
- Stress levels
- Ear damage
- Ear wax
Specific medication may cause this problem too like:
- Water pills
- Cancer Meds
- Quinine medications
Making a change could get rid of the tinnitus.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other apparent cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can lessen the ringing and better your situation.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Since tinnitus isn’t an illness, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should go away.
For some, the only answer is to live with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to suppress it. A useful tool is a white noise machine. They create the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing stops. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.
Another method is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that delivers a tone to cover up the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can help you learn not to focus on it.
You will also want to look for ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. They are different for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.
- What were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
The diary will allow you to find patterns. You would know to order something else if you drank 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.