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

Tinnitus is a condition that affects more than 45 million people in this country, according to the National Tinnitus Association. Don’t worry, if you have it, you’re not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not always obvious why some people get tinnitus. Discovering ways to manage it is the secret to living with it, for most. An excellent place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Learning About Tinnitus

About one in five people are living everyday hearing noises that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical problem. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most common reason people get tinnitus is loss of hearing. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. Your brain makes the decision as to what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. All the sound around you is transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only pressure waves. The electrical signals are converted into words you can comprehend by the brain.

You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. If the brain doesn’t think a sound is important to you, it filters it out. You might not hear the wind blowing, as an example. 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 forms of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The brain waits for them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never come. The brain might attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Roaring
  • Ringing
  • Hissing
  • Clicking
  • Buzzing

It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.

There are other reasons besides hearing loss you might have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:

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

Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Prevention is how you prevent a problem like with most things. Protecting your ears decreases your risk of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:

  • Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
  • If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.
  • Avoiding long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.

Every few years get your hearing checked, too. The test allows you to make lifestyle adjustments and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss issue.

If You do Hear The Ringing

Ringing means you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t tell you why you have it or how you got it. You can understand more with a little trial and error.

Find out if the sound goes away over time if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.

Take a close look at your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? Did you, for instance:

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

If the answer is yes to any of those situations, chances are the tinnitus is temporary.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

The next thing to do would be to have an ear exam. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus such as:

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

Here are some particular medications which could cause this issue too:

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

The tinnitus could go away if you make a change.

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

Treating Tinnitus

Since tinnitus isn’t an illness, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step would be to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should disappear.

Discovering a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. A useful tool is a white noise machine. The ringing stops when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also use a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.

Tinnitus retraining is another strategy. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a machine which creates similar tones. You can use this method to learn not to pay attention to it.

You will also need to determine ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everybody. When the tinnitus begins, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.

  • 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 else 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 minimize its impact. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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