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

Over 45 million people in US are impacted by tinnitus according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, don’t worry you are not alone. It’s generally not clear why people experience tinnitus and there is no cure. Finding ways to deal with it is the trick to living with it, for many. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to begin.

Learning About Tinnitus

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

The most common reason people develop tinnitus is loss of hearing. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. A lot of the time, your mind works to translate the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. As an example, your spouse talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical impulses. The electrical signals are translated into words you can comprehend by the brain.

Sound is all around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. The brain filters out the noise it doesn’t think is important to you. You may not hear the wind blowing, as an example. 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.

When someone suffers from certain types of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The signals never come because of damage but the brain still expects them. When that occurs, the brain might try to generate a sound of its own to fill that space.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Clicking
  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Roaring

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

Hearing loss is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Here are some other possible factors:

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

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

As with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Decreasing your chances of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Tips to protect your hearing health include:

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

Get your hearing checked every few years, too. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss problem.

If You do Hear The Ringing

Ringing doesn’t tell you how or why you got tinnitus, but it does tell you that you have it. A little trial and error can help you understand more.

Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds altogether and see if the sound stops after a while.

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

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

If the answer is yes to any of those situations, chances are 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 potential causes of the tinnitus like:

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

Certain medication may cause this problem too such as:

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

Making a change might clear up the tinnitus.

If there is no apparent cause, then the doctor can order a hearing test, or you can schedule one yourself. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can minimize the ringing and better your situation.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Since tinnitus is a side effect and not an illness, treating the cause is the first step. If you have high blood pressure, medication will lower it, and the tinnitus should disappear.

Finding a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to deal with it. White noise machines can be helpful. They produce the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing goes away. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.

Another approach is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that produces a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. You can use this technique to learn not to pay attention to it.

Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing started.

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

The diary will help you to find patterns. 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 find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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