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

You hear plenty of talk these days about the challenge of living with chronic ailments such as diabetes or high blood pressure, but what about tinnitus? It is a chronic illness that has a strong emotional component because it affects so many areas of someone’s life. Tinnitus presents as ghost noises in both ears. Most people describe the sound as ringing, clicking, buzzing, or hissing that no one else can hear.

Tinnitus technically isn’t an illness but a symptom of an underlying medical issue like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million people from the U.S. deal with on daily basis. The ghost sound tends to begin at the worst possible times, too, like when you’re watching a favorite TV show, trying to read a magazine or listening to a friend tell a terrific story. Tinnitus can worsen even once you try to go to bed.

Medical science hasn’t quite pinpointed the reason so many folks suffer with tinnitus or how it happens. The current theory is that the brain creates this noise to balance the silence that comes with hearing loss. Regardless of the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing issue. Consider five reasons tinnitus is such a hardship.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

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

2. Tinnitus is Not Easy to Discuss

How do you explain to somebody else that you hear weird noises that they can’t hear and not feel crazy when you say it. The helplessness to talk about tinnitus is isolating. Even if you can tell someone else, it’s not something that they truly understand unless they suffer from it for themselves. Even then, they may not have exactly the same signs of tinnitus as you. Support groups are usually available, but it means speaking to a bunch of people that you don’t know about something very personal, so it is not an appealing option to most.

3. Tinnitus is Bothersome

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with noise in the background that you can not escape. It is a diversion that many find debilitating whether they’re at the office or just doing things around the house. The noise changes your focus making it hard to stay on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and useless.

4. Tinnitus Hampers Sleep

This is one of the most crucial side effects of tinnitus. The ringing will amp up when a sufferer is attempting to fall asleep. It is unclear why it increases at night, but the most logical explanation is that the lack of sounds around you makes it more active. Throughout the day, other noises ease the sound of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn everything all off when it’s time to sleep.

A lot of people use a sound machine or a fan at night to help relieve their tinnitus. Just that little bit of ambient sound is enough to get your brain to reduce the volume on your tinnitus and allow you to get some sleep.

5. There’s No Magic Cure For Tinnitus

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

Lots of people will discover their tinnitus is the result of hearing loss and dealing with that problem relieves the buzzing. Obtaining a hearing aid means an increase in the amount of noise, so the brain can stop trying to make it to fill up the silence. Hearing loss may also be quick to treat, such as earwax build up. When the doctor treats the underlying issue, the tinnitus vanishes.

In extreme cases, your physician may attempt to combat the tinnitus medically. Antidepressants may help lower the noise, for instance. The doctor may suggest lifestyle changes which should ease the symptoms and make living with tinnitus simple, like using a noise machine and finding ways to handle anxiety.

Tinnitus presents many challenges, but there is hope. Science is learning more every year about how the brain works and ways to make life better for those struggling with tinnitus.