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

Over 45 million people in US 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 certain people get tinnitus. Discovering ways to manage it is the secret to living with it, for most. A perfect place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

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 caused by an inherent medical problem is the medical definition of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.

The most prevalent reason people get tinnitus is hearing loss. 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. All the sound around is converted by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only pressure waves. The electrical impulses are converted into words you can comprehend by the brain.

You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. You may not hear the wind blowing, for instance. You can feel it, but the brain masks the sound of it passing by your ears because it’s not essential 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 signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never arrive because of damage but the brain still expects them. The brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Hissing
  • Ringing
  • Clicking
  • Roaring
  • Buzzing

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

Hearing loss is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Here are some other possible causes:

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

Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and can create problems like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Prevention is how you prevent a problem as with most things. Protecting your ears decreases your risk of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:

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

Every few years have your hearing examined, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss issue.

If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms

Ringing indicates 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 over time.

Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? Did you, for example:

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

The tinnitus is most likely temporary if you answered yes to any of these situations.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

The next thing to do would be to get an ear exam. Some potential causes your physician will look for are:

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

Here are some specific medications that could cause this problem too:

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

The tinnitus may 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 improve your situation.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Since tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause is the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should go away.

For some people, the only solution is to deal with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to control it. A helpful device is a white noise machine. They create the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing goes away. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.

Another approach is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that creates a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you not to focus on it.

Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everybody. Write down everything before the ringing started.

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

The diary will help you to track patterns. Caffeine is a well-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 reduce its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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