Woman with tinnitus trying to muffle the ringing in her ears with a pillow to overcome challenge.

You hear a lot of talk these days about the challenge of living with chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure, but what about tinnitus? It is a chronic illness that has a strong psychological element because it affects so many aspects of someone’s life. Tinnitus presents as phantom sounds in one or both ears. Most folks describe the sound as ringing, buzzing, clicking or hissing that no one else can hear.

Tinnitus technically isn’t an illness but a symptom of an untreated medical problem like hearing loss and something that over 50 million individuals from the U.S. deal with on regular basis. The phantom sound tends to start at the worst possible times, too, like when you are watching a favorite TV series, attempting to read a book or listening to a friend tell a great story. Tinnitus can act up even once you try to get some rest.

Medical science hasn’t quite pinpointed the reason so many people suffer from tinnitus or how it occurs. The accepted theory is that the brain creates this sound to counteract the silence that comes with hearing loss. Regardless of the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing problem. Consider five reasons tinnitus is such a challenge.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent research indicates that people who experience tinnitus also have more activity in the limbic system of the mind. The limbic system is the portion of the brain responsible for emotions. Up until this discovery, most doctors believed that people with tinnitus were stressed and that’s the reason why they were always so emotional. This new study indicates there is much more to it than just stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus snappy and emotionally sensitive.

2. Tinnitus is Hard to Talk About

How do you explain to someone else that you hear weird noises coming from inside your head and not feel crazy once you say it. The helplessness to tell others about tinnitus causes a divide. Even if you could tell somebody else, it is not something they truly get unless they suffer from it for themselves. Even then, they may not have exactly the very same signs of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but it means speaking to a lot of people you don’t know about something very personal, so it is not an appealing option to most.

3. Tinnitus is Annoying

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with sound in the background that you can’t get away from or stop. It is a diversion that many find crippling whether they’re at work or just doing things around the house. The noise shifts your focus which makes it hard to stay on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a real motivation killer, too, which makes you feel lethargic and useless.

4. Tinnitus Hampers Rest

This might be one of the most critical side effects of tinnitus. The sound will get louder when a sufferer is attempting to fall asleep. It is unclear why it worsens at night, but the most plausible reason is that the lack of sounds around you makes it worse. Throughout the day, other sounds ease the sound of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn everything all off when it is time to sleep.

Many people use a noise machine or a fan at night to help alleviate their tinnitus. Just that little bit of background sound is enough to get your mind to lower the volume on the tinnitus and allow you to fall asleep.

5. There is No Magic Cure For Tinnitus

Just the concept that tinnitus is something that you must live with is hard to come to terms with. Although no cure will stop that ringing for good, there are things can be done to assist you find relief. It starts at the doctor’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it is critical to get a correct diagnosis. For instance, if you hear clicking, maybe the noise isn’t tinnitus but a sound associated with a jaw problem such as TMJ. For some, the cause is a chronic illness that the requires treatment like high blood pressure.

Lots of people will discover their tinnitus is the result of hearing loss and dealing with that health problem relieves the noise they hear. Getting a hearing aid means an increase in the level of noise, so the brain can stop trying to make it to fill a void. Hearing loss can also be easy to solve, such as earwax build up. Once the doctor treats the underlying problem, the tinnitus disappears.

In extreme cases, your physician may attempt to treat the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help reduce the ringing you hear, as an example. The doctor may provide you with lifestyle changes that should alleviate the symptoms and make life with tinnitus simple, like using a sound machine and finding ways to manage stress.

Tinnitus presents many hurdles, but there is hope. Medical science is learning more each year about how the brain works and strategies to make life better for those suffering from tinnitus.