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

Tinnitus is a condition that impacts over 45 million people in the US, 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 absolutely clear why some people get tinnitus. For many, the secret to living with it is to come up with ways to deal with it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a good place to begin.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can hear. The perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical problem is the medical definition of tinnitus. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most prevalent 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. Your brain decides what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. As an example, your friend talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear converts 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 sound it doesn’t think is important to you. As an example, 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 capable of listening to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.

There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The signals never arrive because of damage but the brain still waits for them. When that occurs, the brain may try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Clicking
  • Roaring
  • Buzzing
  • Ringing
  • Hissing

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

There are other reasons besides hearing loss you could have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:

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

Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other problems can occur.

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

Prevention is how you avoid an issue like with most things. Decreasing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with safeguarding your ears now. Tips to protect your hearing health include:

  • Avoiding long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
  • Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
  • Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.

Every few years get your hearing checked, 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 tell you 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 after a while.

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

  • Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
  • Attend a party
  • Go to a concert
  • Work or sit near 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 thing to do would be to have an ear exam. Some potential causes your physician will look for are:

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

Certain medication may cause this problem too such as:

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

Making a change may get rid of the tinnitus.

If there is no apparent cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one yourself. Hearing aids can better your situation and minimize the ringing, if you do have loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Since 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 proper medication if you have high blood pressure.

For some people, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means discovering ways to control it. A helpful tool is a white noise machine. They create the noise the brain is missing and the ringing stops. You can also get the same effect from a fan or dehumidifier.

Tinnitus retraining is another approach. You wear a device that creates a tone to mask the frequencies of the tinnitus. You can use this strategy to learn not to pay attention to it.

You will also want to determine ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everyone. Write down everything before the ringing began.

  • What sound did you hear?
  • What were you doing?
  • What did you eat or drink?

The diary will help you to track patterns. You would know to order something else if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.

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.