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

Tinnitus is a condition that affects over 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 absolutely obvious why certain people get tinnitus. For many, the trick to living with it is to come up with ways to deal with it. A perfect place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Understanding Tinnitus

About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical problem. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

Hearing loss is the biggest reason people develop tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. A lot of the time, your mind works to interpret the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. All the sound around you is transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only pressure waves. The electrical impulses are converted into words you can understand by the brain.

You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. The brain filters out the sound it doesn’t think is important to you. You might 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 essential that you hear it. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.

There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The brain waits for them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never arrive. When that occurs, the brain might try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Hissing
  • Ringing
  • Clicking
  • Buzzing
  • Roaring

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

Hearing loss is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:

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

Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Prevention is how you prevent an issue as with most things. Reducing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Tips to protect your ear health include:

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

Get your hearing examined every few years, also. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle changes to prevent further damage.

If You do Hear The Ringing

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

See if the sound goes away after a while 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? For instance, did you:

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

If the answer is yes to any of those situations, chances are the tinnitus is temporary.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

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

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

Here are some particular medications that might cause this issue too:

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

Making a change could get rid of the tinnitus.

If there is no obvious cause, then the doctor can order a hearing test, or you can schedule one yourself. Hearing aids can improve your situation and lessen the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.

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. The tinnitus should go away once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.

For some people, the only solution is to deal with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to control it. A useful device 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 result from a fan or dehumidifier.

Another strategy is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that delivers a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. You can use this strategy to learn not to pay attention to it.

You will also need to look for ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everyone. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.

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

Tracking patterns is possible in this way. You would know to order something else if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well 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.

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