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

Tinnitus is a condition that impacts over 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not absolutely obvious why certain people get tinnitus. Discovering ways to manage it is the secret to living with it, for many. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to begin.

Getting to Know 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. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.

The most prevalent reason people develop tinnitus is loss of hearing. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Your brain decides what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. 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 all around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. 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 essential that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

When someone develops certain kinds of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never arrive due to injury but the brain still expects them. The brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Hissing
  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Clicking
  • Roaring

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

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

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

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

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

As with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Protecting your ears reduces your risk of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:

  • Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
  • Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
  • Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.

Every few years have your hearing examined, too. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss problem.

If You do Hear The Ringing

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.

Avoid wearing headphones or earbuds altogether and see if the sound goes away after a while.

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

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

If the answer is yes to any of those situations, it’s likely the tinnitus is temporary.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

Getting an ear exam would be the next thing to do. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:

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

Specific medication may cause this issue too like:

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

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 reduce the ringing and better your situation.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

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

Discovering a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. White noise machines are helpful. The ringing goes away 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 strategy. You wear a device that delivers a tone to cover up the frequencies of the tinnitus. You can use this technique to learn not to pay attention to it.

You will also want to look for ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. 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 drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a well known trigger.

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

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