Bright Audiology - Sanford, NC

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

Tinnitus is a condition that affects more than 45 million people in the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, don’t worry you are not alone. It’s often unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. Finding ways to deal with it is the secret to living with it, for most. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a good place to begin.

Learning About Tinnitus

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

Hearing loss is the most common reason people get tinnitus. The brain is trying to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. Your brain makes the decision as to what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. All the sound around you 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. You might not hear the wind blowing, as an example. You can feel it, but the brain masks the sound of it passing by your ears because it’s not important that you hear it. If you were capable of listening to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.

There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The signals never arrive due to injury but the brain still waits for them. The brain may attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Hissing
  • Roaring
  • Clicking
  • Buzzing
  • Ringing

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

Hearing loss is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:

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

Although physically harmless, tinnitus is linked to anxiety and depression and can create complications 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. Reducing your risk of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Tips to protect your ear health include:

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

Every few years have your hearing examined, also. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it enables you to get treatment or make lifestyle changes to prevent further damage.

If You do Hear The Ringing

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

Find out if the sound stops over time if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.

Assess your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? For instance, did you:

  • Listen to the music of TV with headphones or earbuds
  • Go to a concert
  • 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 Get Better

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

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

Here are some specific medications which may cause this problem too:

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

The tinnitus could go away 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. Hearing aids can improve your situation and lessen the ringing, if you do have loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Because tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. The tinnitus should disappear once you take the correct medication if you have high blood pressure.

For some people, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means discovering ways to control it. White noise machines are 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 approach is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that delivers a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. 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 begins, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.

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

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 well known trigger.

Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best chance is finding a way to eliminate it or at least lessen its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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