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

Over 45 million people in US are impacted by tinnitus 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 necessarily obvious why certain people get tinnitus. Finding ways to deal with 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 are walking around hearing noises that no one else can hear because they have tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical problem. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.

Hearing loss is the biggest reason people develop tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. Most of the time, your mind works to interpret the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. All the sound around is transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only pressure waves. The electrical impulses are translated into words you can understand by the brain.

Sound is all 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. 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.

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

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Roaring
  • Ringing
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Clicking

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

Hearing loss is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:

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

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 an issue as with most things. Reducing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:

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

Every few years have your hearing examined, 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 help you understand why you have it or how you got it. You can understand more with a little trial and error.

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

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

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

The tinnitus is probably short-term 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. Some potential causes your physician will look for are:

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

Certain medication may cause this issue too such as:

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

The tinnitus may clear up if you make a change.

If there is no evident cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one yourself. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can lessen the ringing and improve your situation.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Because tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause would be the first step. The tinnitus should go away once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.

For some, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to suppress it. A helpful device is a white noise machine. They produce the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing stops. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.

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

You will also need to discover ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. 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 well-known trigger, so if you had 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.