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

Tinnitus is a condition that affects over 45 million people in this country, 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 clear why certain people get tinnitus. For many, the secret to living with it is to find ways to manage it. An excellent place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Understanding Tinnitus

About one in five people are walking around hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical problem. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.

The most common reason people get tinnitus is loss of hearing. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. A lot of the time, your brain works to interpret the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. For example, your spouse talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical impulses. The electrical signals are translated into words you can understand by the brain.

You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. 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.

There are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The brain expects them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never come. When that takes place, the brain may try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Roaring
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Ringing
  • Buzzing

It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom sound.

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

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

Prevention is how you prevent an issue like with most things. Protecting your ears decreases your risk of hearing loss later in life. Tips to protect your hearing health include:

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

Get your hearing checked every few years, too. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes 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. A little trial and error can help you understand more.

See if the sound stops after a while if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.

Assess your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? For instance, did you:

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

If the answer is yes to any of those situations, it’s likely the tinnitus is short-term.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

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

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

Here are some particular medications which could cause this issue too:

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

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 on your own. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can reduce the ringing and better your situation.

Treating Tinnitus

Because tinnitus isn’t a disease, 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 lower it, and the tinnitus should disappear.

Finding a way to suppress tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. White noise machines are helpful. They create the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing stops. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.

Another strategy is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that produces a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. You can use this strategy 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 did you eat or drink?
  • What sound did you hear?
  • What were you doing?

Tracking patterns is possible using this method. You would know to order something else if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.

Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to lessen its impact or eliminate it is your best hope. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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