Bells ring to represent suffering from hearing loss related tinnitus.

It’s just a little noise in your ear, right? When you put it that way, it sounds harmless but the reality is that tinnitus alters your view of things right from day one. Tinnitus is not a real noise but it still takes a toll and not in a good way. For some suffers, it is a life changer that gets in the way of talking to others, a good night’s sleep and the ability to concentrate. It alters your perception of your world by interfering with many different parts of it. To understand how this happens you need to know more about this condition.

Tinnitus: What is it?

Tinnitus means you hear noises that no one else can hear. People think of it as a condition but it is actually a symptom of something else like the age-related hearing loss. If you have tinnitus, it is important to know many other people do too. According to the American Tinnitus Association, about 15 percent of the U.S. population have tinnitus at some level.

Tinnitus can be different for everyone, as well. Some people hear ringing in their ears while others describe it as:

  • Buzzing
  • Wind blowing
  • Clicking

These are all sounds that indicate you have tinnitus.

What Causes It?

All that is great information, but it doesn’t explain the mechanism behind tinnitus. The fact is tinnitus a bit of a medical mystery, and there may be more than one cause. For most people, tinnitus is a symptom of hearing loss. The brain is conditioned to hear sound because it’s around you all day long. It’s there when you walk the dog. It’s there when you read a book. There is sound going on even if you meditate in a quiet room.

Noise is always there for your ears pick up on even if it is slight. Faint sound creates small waves that the brain can interpret. It then decides whether you actually should hear the noise or not.

When someone develops hearing loss things changes gradually. Over time, the sound stops coming to the brain the way it used to, so it tries to figure out why. Researchers believe that it tries to fix the problem by creating the ringing, buzzing or wind sound associated with tinnitus. It would rather “hear” a phantom noise then live in silence.

There are other medical problems that can cause tinnitus beside age-related hearing loss such as:

  • Ear canal blockage
  • Head or neck trauma
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
  • Sinus conditions
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Ototoxic drugs
  • Metabolic disorders such as hypothyroid
  • An autoimmune disorder like Lyme disease or fibromyalgia
  • Circulatory disorders such as high blood pressure
  • Vestibular disorders like thoracic outlet syndrome
  • Tumor-related disorders such as acoustic neuroma

If you suddenly notice the phantom noises of tinnitus, it is time to make an appointment with your healthcare provider. You need to find out why you have this problem and to rule out very serious medical concerns like high blood pressure.

Why Does Tinnitus Impact How You See the World?

Tinnitus has a negative impact on most people and even faint ringing in the ears can be distracting. The irritation of not being able to turn it on and off can lead to:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional distress
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration

People with severe tinnitus might experience:

  • Social isolation
  • Unemployment
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Major depressive disorder

That loss of control and frustration may bleed through to everything else you do.

What Treatment is Available for Tinnitus?

First, make an appointment with your doctor to talk about the medical options. If the cause is hearing loss, using a hearing aid for that ear may be the only thing you need. Hearing aids amplify sound, so your brain starts getting the daily noise it expects. White noise machines mimic environmental sounds when you take your hearing aids out like at night. You can also try to create your own kind of noise with a fan or by running a dehumidifier.

Your view of the world defines your awareness of what’s going on around you. That improves when you eliminate the distracting noise of tinnitus.