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 the US, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. It’s generally unclear why people experience tinnitus and there is no cure. For most, the trick to living with it is to find ways to manage it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a good place to start.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people are walking around hearing noises that no one else can hear because they have tinnitus. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical problem. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.

The most prevalent reason people get tinnitus is hearing loss. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. 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 electrical impulses are converted into words you can comprehend by the brain.

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. As an example, 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.

There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The brain expects them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never arrive. When that occurs, the brain may try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Ringing
  • Clicking
  • Roaring

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

There are other reasons besides hearing loss you might have tinnitus. Here are some other potential causes:

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

Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and can create 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. Tips to protect your hearing health include:

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

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

If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms

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.

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

Assess your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? For instance, did you:

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

If the answer is yes to any of those situations, chances are the tinnitus is short-term.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

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

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

Specific medication might cause this problem too like:

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

The tinnitus might go away if you make a change.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other obvious cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can minimize the ringing and improve your situation.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Because 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 people, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to suppress it. White noise machines can be useful. The ringing stops when the white noise replaces 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 mask the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can help you learn not to focus on it.

Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are different for everybody. When the tinnitus begins, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.

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

Tracking patterns is possible in this way. You would know to order something else if you drank 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 minimize its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.