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 necessarily clear why some people get tinnitus. For many, the trick to living with it is to come up with ways to deal with it. 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 due to an inherent medical issue is the medical definition of tinnitus. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

Hearing loss is the biggest 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 determines if you need to know about it. All the sound around is transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s just pressure waves. The brain translates the electrical signals into words that you can comprehend.

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. You may not hear the wind blowing, for instance. Because it’s not essential, 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 has hearing loss. The brain expects them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never come. When that occurs, the brain might try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Buzzing
  • Roaring
  • Ringing
  • Clicking
  • Hissing

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

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

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

Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and can cause problems like difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure.

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

As with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Protecting your ears reduces your risk of hearing loss later in life. Tricks to protect your ear health include:

  • Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.
  • Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
  • When you’re at work or at home reduce long term exposure to loud noises.

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

If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms

Ringing indicates you have tinnitus, but it doesn’t tell you why you have it or how you got it. You can understand more with a little trial and error.

Find out if the sound goes away after a while if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.

Take a close look at your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? For instance, did you:

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

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

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

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

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

Here are some specific medications that may cause this issue too:

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

The tinnitus may clear up if you make a change.

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

How is Tinnitus Treated?

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 proper medication if you have high blood pressure.

Looking for a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. White noise machines can be useful. They produce the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing goes away. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.

Tinnitus retraining is another method. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a device which produces similar tones. It can teach you 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 starts, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.

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

Tracking patterns is possible using this method. You would know to order something else if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.

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