Center For Better Hearing - Glens Falls, NY

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

Tinnitus is a condition that affects over 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 necessarily obvious why some people get tinnitus. For many, the trick to living with it is to come up with ways to manage it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is an excellent place to begin.

Understanding Tinnitus

About one in five people are living everyday hearing noises that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound due to an underlying medical issue is the medical definition of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.

The most common reason people develop tinnitus is hearing loss. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. Your brain decides 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 comprehend.

Sound is all around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. The brain filters out the sound it doesn’t think is important to you. You might not hear the wind blowing, for instance. 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 able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.

There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The signals never come due to injury but the brain still waits for them. When that occurs, the brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill that space.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Roaring
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Clicking
  • Ringing

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

There are other reasons besides hearing loss you could have tinnitus. Other possible causes include:

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

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

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Prevention is how you avoid an issue like with most things. Protecting your ears decreases your chance of hearing loss later in life. Tips to protect your hearing health include:

  • Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
  • Spending less time wearing headphones or earbuds.
  • When you’re at work or at home avoid long term exposure to loud noises.

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

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 stops over time if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.

Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? For instance, did you:

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

The next thing to do would be to get an ear exam. Your physician will look for possible causes of the tinnitus like:

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

Here are some specific medications that could cause this problem too:

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

Making a change might get rid of the tinnitus.

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

Treating Tinnitus

Since tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should disappear.

For some, the only answer is to live with the tinnitus, which means discovering ways to suppress it. White noise machines are helpful. The ringing stops when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.

Tinnitus retraining is another approach. You wear a device that produces a tone to mask 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 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 using this method. Caffeine is a well-known trigger, so if you had a double espresso each time, you know to order something else in the future.

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 find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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