Over 45 million people in this country are impacted by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not absolutely obvious why certain people get tinnitus. For many, the secret to living with it is to come up with ways to deal with it. A perfect 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 have tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical issue. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.
Hearing loss is the most common reason people develop tinnitus. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. Your brain makes the decision as to what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. As an example, your spouse talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical impulses. The electrical signals are converted into words you can comprehend by the brain.
Sound is everywhere around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. For instance, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. Because it’s not essential, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.
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. The brain may try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.
Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:
The phantom noise may be high pitched, low pitched, loud or soft.
Hearing loss is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Here are some other possible causes:
- High blood pressure
- Ear bone changes
- TMJ disorder
- Meniere’s disease
- Earwax build up
- Poor blood flow in the neck
- Head injury
- Tumor in the head or neck
- Acoustic neuroma
- Malformed capillaries
- Neck injury
- Loud noises around you
Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and can create complications like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.
Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend
Prevention is how you prevent a problem as with most things. Reducing your risk of hearing loss later in life starts with protecting your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:
- Spending less time using headphones or earbuds.
- Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
- When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
Every few years get your hearing tested, too. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it enables you to get treatment or make lifestyle changes to avoid further damage.
If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms
Ringing means you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t tell you why you have it or how you got it. A little trial and error can help you understand more.
Find out if the sound stops over time if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.
Take a close look at your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing started? Did you, for instance:
- Attend a party
- Go to a concert
- Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
- Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
If the answer is yes to any of those situations, it’s likely the tinnitus is short-term.
If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better
The next thing to do would be to have an ear exam. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:
- Stress levels
- Ear wax
- Ear damage
Specific medication could cause this issue too like:
- Quinine medications
- Water pills
- Cancer Meds
The tinnitus could clear up if you make a change.
If there is no apparent 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 better your situation.
Because tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should go away.
For some people, the only answer is to live with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to suppress it. White noise machines are useful. They produce the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing stops. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.
Tinnitus retraining is another method. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a machine which creates similar tones. You can use this technique to learn not to pay attention to it.
You will also want to determine ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everyone. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.
- What did you eat or drink?
- What sound did you hear?
- What were you doing?
The diary will allow you to track patterns. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you had a double espresso each time, you know to get something else next time.
Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best chance is finding a way to eliminate it or at least minimize its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.