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Woman with tinnitus trying to muffle the ringing in her ears with a pillow to overcome challenge.

You hear a lot of talk nowadays about the challenge of living with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes, but what about tinnitus? It is a chronic illness which has a strong psychological element since it affects so many aspects of a person’s life. Tinnitus presents as phantom sounds in one or both ears. Most people describe the noise as ringing, clicking, buzzing, or hissing that nobody else can hear.

Tinnitus technically isn’t an illness but a symptom of an another medical problem like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million people in the U.S. deal with on a day to day basis. The phantom sound will begin at the most inconvenient times, too, like when you are watching a favorite TV show, attempting to read a book or listening to a friend tell a terrific tale. Tinnitus can worsen even once you attempt to get some sleep.

Medical science hasn’t quite pinpointed the reason so many people suffer with tinnitus or how it happens. The accepted theory is that the brain creates this sound to counteract the silence that comes with hearing loss. Whatever the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing problem. Consider five ways that tinnitus is such a hardship.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent research indicates that individuals who experience tinnitus also have more activity in their limbic system of their brain. This system is the part of the brain responsible for emotions. Until now, most specialists thought that people with tinnitus were worried and that is the reason why they were always so sensitive. This new research indicates there is much more to it than simple stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus touchy and emotionally sensitive.

2. Tinnitus is Hard to Discuss

How do you explain to somebody else that you hear weird noises that don’t exist and not feel crazy once you say it. The inability to talk about tinnitus is isolating. Even if you could tell someone else, it is not something they truly get unless they experience it for themselves. Even then, they might not have exactly the same symptoms of tinnitus as you. Support groups are usually available, but that means speaking to a lot of people that you aren’t comfortable with about something very personal, so it is not an attractive choice to most.

3. Tinnitus is Annoying

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with noise in the background that you can not get away from or stop. It is a diversion that many find debilitating if they are at work or just doing things around the house. The noise shifts your attention making it tough to remain on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and useless.

4. Tinnitus Inhibits Rest

This could be one of the most critical side effects of tinnitus. The ringing tends to get louder when a sufferer is attempting to fall asleep. It’s not understood why it increases during the night, but the most logical reason is that the lack of sounds around you makes it worse. During the day, other noises ease the sound of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn off everything when it’s time for bed.

A lot of men and women use a noise machine or a fan at night to help relieve their tinnitus. Just that little bit of ambient noise is enough to get your mind to lower the volume on your tinnitus and allow you to fall asleep.

5. There’s No Magic Cure For Tinnitus

Just the concept that tinnitus is something you must live with is hard to accept. Although no cure will shut off that ringing permanently, some things can be done to help you find relief. It starts at the physician’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it’s essential to get a proper diagnosis. By way of example, if you hear clicking, maybe the sound is not tinnitus but a sound associated with a jaw problem like TMJ. For many, the cause is a chronic illness the requires treatment like high blood pressure.

Lots of people will find their tinnitus is the consequence of hearing loss and coping with that problem relieves the buzzing. Obtaining a hearing aid means an increase in the amount of noise, so the brain can stop trying to create it to fill up the silence. Hearing loss may also be easy to solve, such as earwax build up. Once the doctor treats the underlying issue, the tinnitus disappears.

In extreme cases, your doctor may attempt to combat the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help reduce the noise, for instance. The doctor can suggest lifestyle changes that should ease the symptoms and make life with tinnitus easier, such as using a noise machine and finding ways to manage anxiety.

Tinnitus presents many challenges, but there’s hope. Medical science is learning more each year about how the brain works and ways to make life better for those suffering from tinnitus.