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

Over 45 million people in this country are affected by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. It’s often unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. Finding ways to deal with it is the secret to living with it, for most. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to begin.

Understanding 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. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most prevalent reason people develop tinnitus is loss of hearing. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. Most of the time, your mind works to translate the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. As an example, your friend talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical signals. The brain transforms the electrical signals 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. For instance, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. 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. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

When someone develops certain forms 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 occurs, the brain may try to generate a sound of its own to fill that space.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Hissing
  • Ringing
  • Clicking
  • Roaring
  • Buzzing

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

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

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

Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and can create problems 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. Reducing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Tricks to protect your ear health include:

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

Get your hearing checked 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 indicates you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t help you understand 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 after a while if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.

Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? Did you, for example:

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

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

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

The next thing to do would be to get an ear exam. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus such as:

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

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

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

The tinnitus might go away if you make a change.

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

Treating Tinnitus

Since tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause is the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will lower it, and the tinnitus should go away.

For some people, the only answer is to live with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to control it. A helpful device is a white noise machine. The ringing stops when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also use a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.

Tinnitus retraining is another method. You wear a device that produces a tone to mask the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you not to focus on it.

Also, staying away from 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 reduce its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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