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. Don’t worry, if you have it, you’re not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not absolutely obvious why some people get tinnitus. Finding ways to deal with it is the trick to living with it, for most. An excellent place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Learning About Tinnitus

About one in five people are walking around hearing sounds that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical issue is the medical definition of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.

Hearing loss is the most common reason people get tinnitus. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. Most of the time, your mind works to translate the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. For 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 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. Because it’s not crucial, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. If you were capable of listening to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.

When someone develops certain forms of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never arrive 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 occurs.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Roaring
  • Buzzing
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Ringing

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

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

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

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 avoid a problem like 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:

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

Every few years have your hearing examined, too. The test not only points out hearing loss problem, but it enables you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to lessen further damage.

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. You can understand more with a little trial and error.

See if the sound goes away over time if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.

Evaluate your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? For instance, did you:

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

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

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

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

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

Certain medication might cause this issue too such as:

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

The tinnitus might clear up if you make a change.

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

Treating Tinnitus

Since tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause would be the first step. 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 live with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to suppress it. A helpful tool is a white noise machine. They generate the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing goes away. You can also get the same effect from a fan or dehumidifier.

Another approach is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a machine which creates similar tones. You can use this technique to learn not to pay attention to it.

You will also need to determine ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everybody. When the tinnitus begins, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.

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

The diary will help you to track patterns. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to order something else in the future.

Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to reduce its impact or eliminate it is your best hope. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.