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

Tinnitus is a condition that impacts more than 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not always obvious why some people get tinnitus. Finding 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.

Understanding Tinnitus

About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can hear. The perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical problem is the medical description of tinnitus. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

Hearing loss is the biggest reason people get tinnitus. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. Most 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 someone talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical signals. The brain transforms the electrical impulses into words that you can understand.

You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. If the brain doesn’t think a sound is important to you, it filters it out. 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.

When someone develops certain types of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The brain expects them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never come. When that takes place, the brain might try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Ringing
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Roaring
  • Buzzing

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

There are other reasons besides loss of hearing you might have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:

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

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

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

As with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Decreasing your chances of hearing loss later in life starts with safeguarding your ears now. Tricks to protect your ear health include:

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

Get your hearing tested every few years, also. The test not only points out hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to lessen further damage.

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.

See if the sound goes away 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 began? Did you, for example:

  • Work or sit next to an unusually loud noise
  • Attend a party
  • Go to a concert
  • 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 step would be to get an ear exam. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus like:

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

Specific medication may cause this problem too like:

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

Making a change might get rid of the tinnitus.

If there is no obvious 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 lessen the ringing and better your situation.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Since tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. The tinnitus should disappear once you take the proper medication if you have high blood pressure.

For some, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means discovering ways to control it. White noise machines can be helpful. They create the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing stops. You can also get the same effect from a fan or dehumidifier.

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

You will also need to find ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus begins, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.

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

The diary will allow you to track patterns. You would know to order something else if you had 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 chance. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.