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

Tinnitus is a condition that affects over 45 million people in this country, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not always obvious why some people get tinnitus. For many, the secret to living with it is to come up with ways to manage it. An excellent place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people are walking around hearing noises that no one else can hear because they have tinnitus. 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 an illness itself.

The most common reason people develop tinnitus is hearing loss. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. A lot of the time, your brain works to interpret the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. For example, your spouse talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical impulses. The brain transforms the electrical impulses into words that you can comprehend.

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. You might 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. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The signals never arrive due to damage but the brain still expects 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
  • Ringing
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Roaring

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

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

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

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

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Prevention is how you avoid a problem as with most things. Protecting your ears reduces your risk of hearing loss later in life. Tricks to protect your hearing health include:

  • If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
  • When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.
  • Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.

Get your hearing tested every few years, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle adjustments and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss problem.

If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms

Ringing doesn’t tell you how or why you got tinnitus, but it does tell you that you have it. A little trial and error can help you understand more.

Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds altogether and see if the sound goes away after a while.

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

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

The tinnitus is most likely short-term if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

Having an ear exam would be the next thing to do. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus like:

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

Certain medication may cause this problem too like:

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

Making a change may clear up the tinnitus.

If there is no obvious cause, then the doctor can order a hearing test, or you can schedule one on your own. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can lessen the ringing and better your situation.

Treating Tinnitus

Because tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step would be to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should fade away.

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

Tinnitus retraining is another approach. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a machine which creates similar tones. It can teach you not to focus on it.

Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.

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

Tracking patterns is possible in this way. You would know to order something else if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a 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 learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.