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

Over 45 million people in this country are affected by tinnitus 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 obvious why some people get tinnitus. For most, the trick to living with it is to find ways to deal with it. An excellent place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can hear. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound due to 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 attempting 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 transforms them into electrical signals. The brain transforms the electrical signals into words that you can understand.

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. You may not hear the wind blowing, as an example. 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 able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.

When someone develops certain forms of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. 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 happens.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Ringing

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

Loss of hearing is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Here are some other possible causes:

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

Although physically harmless, tinnitus is connected to anxiety and depression and can create problems like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Like with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Decreasing your chances of hearing loss later in life starts with protecting your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:

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

Every few years have 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 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 began? Did you, for example:

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

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

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

The next step would be to have an ear exam. Some potential causes your physician will look for are:

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

Specific medication may cause this problem too like:

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

The tinnitus might go away if you make a change.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other apparent cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can minimize the ringing and better your situation.

Treating Tinnitus

Since tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause is the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will lower it, and the tinnitus should fade away.

For some, the only answer is to live with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to control it. A useful tool is a white noise machine. The ringing stops when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same effect from a fan or dehumidifier.

Tinnitus retraining is another strategy. You wear a device that produces a tone to mask the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you not to focus on it.

You will also need to discover ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everybody. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.

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

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

Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best hope is finding a way to eliminate it or at least lessen its impact. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.