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 this country, according to the National Tinnitus Association. Rest assured, if you have it, you’re not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not absolutely clear why certain people get tinnitus. Discovering ways to manage it is the trick to living with it, for many. An excellent place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can hear. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical problem. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.

Hearing loss is the biggest 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 is transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s just pressure waves. The brain transforms the electrical signals into words that you can understand.

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. 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 important that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

There are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret when someone has hearing loss. The brain waits for them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never come. When that takes place, the brain may try to produce a sound of its own to fill that space.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Ringing
  • Roaring
  • Clicking

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

Loss of hearing is not the only reason you could have tinnitus. Here are some other possible causes:

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

Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been connected to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

Like with most things, prevention is how you avoid a problem. Protecting your ears reduces your risk of hearing loss later in life. Tips to protect your ear health include:

  • Reducing the amount of time you spend 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 get 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 adjustments 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.

See if the sound goes away after a while if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.

Evaluate your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing started? Did you, for instance:

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

The tinnitus is most likely temporary if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

Getting an ear exam would be the next thing to do. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus such as:

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

Certain medication might cause this issue too like:

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

The tinnitus might go away if you make a change.

If there is no obvious cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, 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 isn’t an illness, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step would be to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should go away.

For some people, the only solution is to deal with the tinnitus, which means finding ways to control it. A helpful device is a white noise machine. They create the noise the brain is missing and the ringing stops. You can also get the same effect from a fan or dehumidifier.

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

You will also want to discover ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. 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 did you eat or drink?
  • What were you doing?
  • What sound did you hear?

Tracking patterns is possible in this way. You would know to order something different if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.

Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best hope 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.