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Photo of man tackling tinnitus metaphorically when he's really tackling a quarterback.

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 unclear why people experience tinnitus and there is no cure. For most, the trick to living with it is to find ways to manage it. An excellent place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Learning About Tinnitus

About one in five people are walking around hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical problem is the medical description of tinnitus. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most prevalent reason people get tinnitus is loss of hearing. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Most of the time, your brain works to interpret the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. As an example, your someone talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical signals. The electrical impulses are converted into words you can comprehend by the brain.

Sound is everywhere 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 essential that you hear it. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.

There are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The signals never come due to injury but the brain still waits for them. When that takes place, the brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill that space.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Roaring
  • Clicking
  • Buzzing
  • Ringing
  • Hissing

It may be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom sound.

Loss of hearing is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Here are some other potential causes:

  • Head injury
  • Medication
  • Tumor in the head or neck
  • Poor blood flow in the neck
  • High blood pressure
  • Ear bone changes
  • Earwax build up
  • Atherosclerosis
  • TMJ disorder
  • Malformed capillaries
  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Loud noises around you
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Neck injury

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 reduces your risk of hearing loss later in life. Tricks to protect your hearing health include:

  • Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
  • Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.
  • When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.

Get your hearing tested 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 do Hear The Ringing

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.

Find out 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 began? For instance, did you:

  • Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
  • Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
  • Attend a party
  • Go to a concert

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 step. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus like:

  • Ear damage
  • Ear wax
  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Stress levels

Specific medication might cause this problem too like:

  • Cancer Meds
  • Antidepressants
  • Water pills
  • Aspirin
  • Antibiotics
  • Quinine medications

Making a change may get rid of the tinnitus.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other evident cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can lessen the ringing and better your situation.

Treating Tinnitus

Because tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause is the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will lower it, and the tinnitus should disappear.

For some people, the only solution is to deal 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 goes away. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.

Another approach is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a device which produces similar tones. You can use this method to learn not to pay attention to it.

You will also want to find ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everybody. Write down everything before the ringing began.

  • What sound did you hear?
  • What were you doing?
  • What did you eat or drink?

Tracking patterns is possible using this method. 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 hope 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.