Illini Hearing - Champaign and Mahomet, IL

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

Tinnitus is a condition that impacts over 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 necessarily obvious why certain people get tinnitus. For most, the trick to living with it is to come up with ways to deal with it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to start.

Understanding Tinnitus

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

Hearing loss is the biggest reason people develop 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. As an example, your spouse talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear changes them into electrical signals. The brain translates the electrical impulses into words that you can comprehend.

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. For instance, 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 essential 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 has hearing loss. The signals never arrive due to 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:

  • Ringing
  • Hissing
  • Roaring
  • Buzzing
  • Clicking

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

There are other reasons besides hearing loss you might have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:

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

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

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

As with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Protecting your ears decreases your chance of hearing loss later in life. Check out these tips to protect your ears:

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

Every few years get your hearing tested, 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.

Avoid wearing headphones or earbuds entirely and see if the sound goes away over time.

Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? Did you, for example:

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

If the answer is yes to any of those situations, it’s likely the tinnitus is short-term.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

Having an ear exam would be the next thing to do. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:

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

Specific medication may cause this issue too like:

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

The tinnitus might clear up if you make a change.

If there is no apparent cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one yourself. Hearing aids can improve your situation and minimize the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

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.

Finding a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. A helpful device is a white noise machine. 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.

Another approach is tinnitus retraining. You wear a device that delivers a tone to cover up the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you not to focus on it.

Also, staying away from tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everyone. When the tinnitus starts, write down everything just before you heard the ringing.

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

Tracking patterns is possible using this method. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you drank 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 reduce its impact. To find out more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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