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. There is no cure, and it’s not necessarily clear why some people get tinnitus. Discovering ways to deal with it is the trick to living with it, for many. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to start.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

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

The most common reason people develop tinnitus is hearing loss. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. 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 you is transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s just pressure waves. The electrical impulses are converted into words you can comprehend by the brain.

Sound is everywhere around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. The brain filters out the sound it doesn’t think is important to you. For instance, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. Because it’s not crucial, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

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. The brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Buzzing
  • Ringing
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Roaring

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

Hearing loss is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Here are some other possible factors:

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

Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Like with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Reducing your chances of hearing loss later in life starts with protecting your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:

  • Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
  • If you have an ear infection, consult a doctor.
  • When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.

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

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. A little trial and error can help you understand more.

See if the sound goes away over time 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? For example, did you:

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

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

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

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

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

Specific medication may cause this problem too like:

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

The tinnitus could go away if you make a change.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other apparent cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can minimize the ringing and improve your situation.

Treating Tinnitus

Because tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, 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, the only solution is to live with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to suppress it. A helpful device is a white noise machine. They produce the noise the brain is missing and the ringing stops. You can also use a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.

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

Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. They are different for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing began.

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

The diary will allow you to find patterns. You would know to order something else if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.

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