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

Tinnitus is a condition that impacts over 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, don’t worry you are not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not absolutely clear why some people get tinnitus. For most, the secret to living with it is to find ways to manage it. A perfect place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Learning About Tinnitus

About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can. The perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical issue is the medical definition of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.

Hearing loss is the biggest reason people get tinnitus. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. Most of the time, your mind works to interpret the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. As an example, your friend talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical impulses. The brain transforms the electrical impulses into words that you can comprehend.

Sound is everywhere around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. The brain filters out the sound it doesn’t think is important to you. 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 important that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

When someone suffers from certain kinds of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The brain expects them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never arrive. The brain may attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Roaring
  • Buzzing
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Ringing

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

Loss of hearing is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:

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

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

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Like with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Protecting your ears reduces your chance of hearing loss later in life. Tips to protect your ear health include:

  • Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
  • Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.
  • Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.

Every few years have your hearing tested, too. 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 means you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t help you understand why you have it or how you got it. A little trial and error can help you understand more.

Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds altogether and see if the sound stops over time.

Evaluate your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? Did you, for instance:

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

The tinnitus is probably temporary if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

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

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

Certain medication might cause this problem too like:

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

The tinnitus might clear up if you make a change.

If there is no evident cause, then the doctor can order a hearing test, or you can schedule one yourself. Hearing aids can improve your situation and minimize the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.

Treating Tinnitus

Since tinnitus isn’t an illness, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. The tinnitus should disappear once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.

Discovering a way to suppress tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. A helpful tool is a white noise machine. The ringing goes away when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same effect from a fan or dehumidifier.

Tinnitus retraining is another strategy. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a device which creates similar tones. It can help you learn not to focus on it.

Also, staying away from tinnitus triggers is important. 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?

Tracking patterns is possible using this method. Caffeine is a well-known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to get something else in the future.

Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best chance is finding a way to eliminate it or at least reduce its impact. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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