Woman with tinnitus trying to muffle the ringing in her ears with a pillow to overcome challenge.

You hear plenty of talk nowadays about the challenge of living with chronic ailments such as high blood pressure or diabetes, but what about tinnitus? It is a chronic illness that has a strong psychological element because it affects so many aspects of a person’s life. Tinnitus presents as phantom sounds in one or both ears. Most people describe the noise as buzzing, ringing, clicking, or hissing that no one else can hear.

Tinnitus technically isn’t an illness but a symptom of an underlying medical issue like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million people from the U.S. deal with on regular basis. The ghost sound will begin at the worst possible times, too, like when you are watching a favorite TV series, trying to read a book or listening to a friend tell a great tale. Tinnitus can act up even when you try to get some rest.

Medical science has not quite pinpointed the reason so many folks suffer with tinnitus or how it occurs. The current theory is that the mind creates this sound to balance the silence that accompanies hearing loss. Regardless of the cause, tinnitus is a life-altering problem. Consider five reasons tinnitus is such a problem.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent information indicates that individuals who experience tinnitus have more activity in their limbic system of the mind. This system is the portion of the brain responsible for emotions. Until now, most doctors believed that people with tinnitus were stressed and that’s the reason why they were always so emotional. This new study indicates there is much more to it than simple stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus testy and emotionally fragile.

2. Tinnitus is Tough to Explain

How do you explain to somebody else that you hear weird noises coming from inside your head and not feel crazy when you say it. The failure to go over tinnitus causes a disconnect. Even if you are able to tell somebody else, it’s not something that they truly understand unless they experience it for themselves. Even then, they might not have exactly the same signs of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but it means talking to a lot of people you aren’t comfortable with about something very personal, so it’s not an attractive option to most.

3. Tinnitus is Distracting

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with sound in the background that you can’t get away from or stop. It’s a diversion that many find crippling whether they are at home or just doing things around work. The noise shifts your attention which makes it tough to stay on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, which makes you feel lethargic and mediocre.

4. Tinnitus Interferes With Rest

This might be one of the most critical side effects of tinnitus. The ringing will amp up when a sufferer is attempting to fall asleep. It’s not understood why it increases during the night, but the most logical explanation is that the lack of sounds around you makes it more noticeable. During the day, other noises ease the sound of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn everything all off when it is time to go to bed.

A lot of men and women use a sound machine or a fan at night to help alleviate their tinnitus. Just that little bit of ambient sound is enough to get your brain to reduce the volume on your tinnitus and permit you to get some sleep.

5. There is No Permanent Solution For Tinnitus

Just the idea that tinnitus is something that you have to live with is tough to accept. Although no cure will shut off that noise permanently, some things can be done to assist you find relief. It starts at the physician’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it is critical to get a proper diagnosis. By way of example, if you hear clicking, perhaps the noise isn’t tinnitus but a sound related to a jaw problem such as TMJ. For some, the cause is a chronic illness the requires treatment like high blood pressure.

Lots of people will discover their tinnitus is the result of hearing loss and dealing with that issue relieves the buzzing. Getting a hearing aid means an increase in the amount of sound, so the brain can stop trying to make it to fill in the empty spaces. Hearing loss may also be temporary, such as earwax build up. When the doctor treats the underlying issue, the tinnitus disappears.

In extreme cases, your specialist may try to combat the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help reduce the ringing you hear, for instance. The doctor may provide you with lifestyle changes that should alleviate the symptoms and make life with tinnitus more tolerable, such as using a sound machine and finding ways to manage stress.

Tinnitus presents many hurdles, but there’s hope. Science is learning more each year about how the brain functions and strategies to make life better for those suffering from tinnitus.