Tinnitus is a condition that affects over 45 million people in this country, 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 always obvious why certain people get tinnitus. Finding ways to manage it is the trick to living with it, for most. A perfect place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.
Learning About Tinnitus
About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical problem is the medical description of tinnitus. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
Hearing loss is the most common reason people get tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. Your brain decides what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. For example, your spouse talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical impulses. The brain transforms the electrical signals into words that you can comprehend.
You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. For instance, 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 crucial that you hear it. If you were capable of listening to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
When someone suffers from certain forms of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The brain expects them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never come. When that takes place, the brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill that space.
Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:
The phantom noise may be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
There are other reasons besides hearing loss you could have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:
- Loud noises near you
- Malformed capillaries
- Earwax accumulation
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Acoustic neuroma
- High blood pressure
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Meniere’s disease
- Head injury
- Ear bone changes
- TMJ disorder
- Neck injury
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus 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. Decreasing your risk of hearing loss later in life starts with safeguarding your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
- Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
- If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
Get your hearing checked 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 means you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t help you understand why you have it or how you got it. You can understand more with a little trial and error.
Avoid wearing headphones or earbuds entirely and see if the sound goes away over time.
Take a close look at your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing started? Did you, for instance:
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
- Go to a concert
- Attend a party
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
The tinnitus is probably short-term if you answered yes to any of these situations.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
The next step would be to have an ear exam. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus such as:
- Stress levels
- Ear damage
- Ear wax
Here are some particular medications that could cause this problem too:
- Quinine medications
- Cancer Meds
- Water pills
Making a change could clear up the tinnitus.
If there is no apparent cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one on your own. 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 fade away.
Finding a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. A helpful tool is a white noise machine. They produce the noise the brain is missing and the ringing stops. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.
Tinnitus retraining is another strategy. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a device which emits similar tones. You can use this method to learn not to pay attention to it.
Also, staying away from tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everybody. Write down everything before the ringing started.
- What sound did you hear?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What were you doing?
Tracking patterns is possible in this way. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to order something else next time.
Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so finding ways to lessen its impact or eliminate it is your best chance. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.