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. Don’t worry, if you have it, you’re not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not necessarily obvious why some people get tinnitus. Discovering ways to manage it is the secret to living with it, for most. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is an excellent place to start.

Learning About Tinnitus

About one in five people are living everyday hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they have tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical problem. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.

Hearing loss is the most common reason people develop tinnitus. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Most of the time, your brain works to interpret the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. All the sound around is transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only pressure waves. The brain transforms the electrical impulses into words that you can comprehend.

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 important that you hear it. If you were capable of listening to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.

There are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The signals never come due to damage but the brain still expects them. The brain may attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Ringing
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Clicking
  • Roaring

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

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

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

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

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

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

  • If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
  • 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 allows you to make lifestyle adjustments and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss problem.

If You do Hear The Ringing

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 entirely and see if the sound goes away after a while.

Assess your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing started? For instance, did you:

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

If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, it’s likely the tinnitus is short-term.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

Having an ear exam would be the next step. Your physician will look for potential causes of the tinnitus like:

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

Specific medication may cause this problem too like:

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

Making a change may get rid of the tinnitus.

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

Treating Tinnitus

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

Finding a way to suppress tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. White noise machines are useful. They produce the noise the brain is missing and the ringing goes away. You can also use a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.

Tinnitus retraining is another approach. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a machine which produces similar tones. It can help you learn 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 begins, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.

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

The diary will help you to find patterns. You would know to order something else if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a 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 learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.