Tinnitus is a condition that impacts over 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 not clear why people experience tinnitus and there is no cure. Discovering ways to manage it is the secret to living with it, for most. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is an excellent place to start.
Learning About Tinnitus
About one in five people are walking around hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical problem. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
Hearing loss is the most common reason people develop 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 brain works to translate the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. All the sound around is converted by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s just pressure waves. The electrical impulses are translated into words you can comprehend by the brain.
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. You may not hear the wind blowing, for instance. Because it’s not essential, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The brain waits for them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never come. The brain might attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.
Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:
It may be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.
Hearing loss is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Here are some other possible causes:
- Head injury
- TMJ disorder
- High blood pressure
- Meniere’s disease
- Malformed capillaries
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Loud noises around you
- Ear bone changes
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Earwax build up
- Neck injury
- Acoustic neuroma
Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
Prevention is how you prevent an issue like with most things. Reducing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Tricks to protect your ear health include:
- When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
- Spending less time using headphones or earbuds.
- If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.
Get your hearing tested every few years, also. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it allows 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. You can understand more with a little trial and error.
Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds altogether and see if the sound stops after a while.
Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? Did you, for instance:
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
- Go to a concert
- Attend a party
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
If the answer is yes to any of those situations, it’s likely the tinnitus is temporary.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
Having an ear exam would be the next step. Some potential causes your physician will look for are:
- Ear damage
- Ear wax
- Stress levels
Here are some particular medications which may cause this problem too:
- Cancer Meds
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
Making a change may get rid of the tinnitus.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other apparent cause. Hearing aids can improve your situation and minimize the ringing, if you do have loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
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.
Looking for a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with 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 result.
Tinnitus retraining is another strategy. You wear a device that produces a tone to cover up the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you not to focus on it.
Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing started.
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What were you doing?
The diary will help you to find patterns. You would know to order something different if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.
Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best chance is finding a way to eliminate it or at least lessen its impact. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.