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

Tinnitus is a condition that impacts over 45 million people in the US, 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 most, the trick to living with it is to find ways to deal with it. A perfect place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Learning About Tinnitus

About one in five people are walking around hearing noises that no one else can hear because they suffer from tinnitus. The perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical issue is the medical description of tinnitus. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most common reason people develop tinnitus is hearing loss. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. A lot of the time, your brain works to translate the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. All the sound around you is transformed by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only pressure waves. The electrical impulses are converted into words you can comprehend by the brain.

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. You may not hear the wind blowing, as an example. Because it’s not important, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel 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 signals never arrive due to injury but the brain still waits for them. When that happens, the brain might try to generate a sound of its own to fill that space.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Clicking
  • Roaring
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Ringing

It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom noise.

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

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

Although physically harmless, tinnitus is connected to anxiety and depression and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

Prevention is how you prevent a problem as with most things. Decreasing your chances of hearing loss later in life begins with safeguarding your ears now. Tricks to protect your hearing health include:

  • When you’re at work or at home reduce long term exposure to loud noises.
  • Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.
  • If you have an ear infection, see a doctor.

Get your hearing examined every few years, too. The test not only points out hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to avoid 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 goes away over time if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.

Assess your noise exposure. The night before the ringing started were you around loud noise? For instance, did you:

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

The tinnitus is probably short-term 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. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:

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

Specific medication could cause this issue too such as:

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

Making a change may clear up the tinnitus.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other evident cause. Hearing aids can improve your situation and lessen the ringing, if you do have loss of hearing, by using hearing aids.

Treating Tinnitus

Since tinnitus isn’t a disease, 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 lower it, and the tinnitus should fade away.

For some people, the only solution is to deal with the tinnitus, which means discovering ways to control it. White noise machines are useful. They generate the noise the brain is missing and the ringing stops. You can also get the same effect from a fan or dehumidifier.

Another approach is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a machine which emits similar tones. You can use this strategy to learn not to pay attention to 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 did you eat or drink?
  • What were you doing?
  • What sound did you hear?

Tracking patterns is possible in this way. Caffeine is a well-known trigger, so if you had a double espresso each time, you know to get something else next time.

Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so discovering ways to minimize its impact or eliminate it is your best chance. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

Main Line Audiology Consultants, PC