Tinnitus is a condition that impacts over 45 million people in this country, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. It’s generally unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. Discovering ways to manage it is the trick to living with it, for many. An excellent place to begin 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 definition of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.
The most common reason people get tinnitus is hearing loss. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. Your brain decides what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. All the sound around you is converted by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s just pressure waves. The brain transforms the electrical signals 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. You might not hear the wind blowing, for instance. Because it’s not important, 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 kinds of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The brain waits for them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never come. When that happens, the brain may try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.
For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:
The phantom noise might be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
Hearing loss is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Here are some other possible causes:
- Neck injury
- Loud noises around you
- Head injury
- Malformed capillaries
- Ear bone changes
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- High blood pressure
- Tumor in the head or neck
- TMJ disorder
- Meniere’s disease
- Earwax build up
- Acoustic neuroma
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
As with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Decreasing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Tips to protect your hearing health include:
- Spending less time using headphones or earbuds.
- When you’re at work or at home reduce long term exposure to loud noises.
- Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.
Get your hearing tested every few years, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle adjustments and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss problem.
If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms
Ringing indicates 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.
Find out if the sound goes away after a while if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.
Evaluate your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? Did you, for example:
- Attend a party
- Go to a concert
- Work or sit near an unusually loud noise
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, it’s likely the tinnitus is short-term.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
The next thing to do would be to get an ear exam. Your physician will look for potential causes of the tinnitus such as:
- Ear wax
- Stress levels
- Ear damage
Here are some specific medications which could cause this issue too:
- Water pills
- Quinine medications
- Cancer Meds
Making a change could get rid of the tinnitus.
You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other apparent cause. Hearing aids can better your situation and reduce the ringing, if you do have loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.
Because 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.
Finding a way to suppress tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. White noise machines can be useful. The ringing stops when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.
Another method is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a device which creates similar tones. You can use this method to learn not to pay attention to 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 were you doing?
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
Tracking patterns is possible in this way. You would know to order something else if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so finding ways to reduce its impact or eliminate it is your best chance. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.