Hearing Health Blog

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

Tinnitus is a condition that impacts more than 45 million people in this country, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, don’t worry you are not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not absolutely clear why certain people get tinnitus. For most, the secret to living with it is to find ways to deal with it. A perfect place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Understanding Tinnitus

About one in five people are living everyday hearing noises that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical issue. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most common reason people get 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 translate the sound you hear and then decides 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 understand.

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. For instance, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. Because it’s not essential, 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.

There are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The brain expects them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never come. When that happens, the brain may try to create a sound of its own to fill that space.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Roaring
  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Clicking
  • Hissing

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

Loss of hearing is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:

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

Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

As with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Decreasing your chances of hearing loss later in life begins with safeguarding your ears now. 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.
  • Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.

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

If You do Hear The Ringing

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.

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

Evaluate your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? Did you, for example:

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

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

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

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

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

Certain medication might cause this issue too such as:

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

Making a change may clear up the tinnitus.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other apparent cause. Hearing aids can better your situation and minimize the ringing, if you do have loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.

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.

For some, the only answer is to live with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to suppress it. White noise machines can be useful. The ringing goes away when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same effect from a fan or dehumidifier.

Another method is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a machine which creates similar tones. It can help you learn not to focus on it.

Also, staying away from tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everybody. Write down everything before the ringing started.

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

The diary will allow 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 chance. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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