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

Tinnitus is a condition that impacts more than 45 million people in this country, according to the National Tinnitus Association. Don’t worry, if you have it, you’re not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not always clear why some people get tinnitus. Discovering ways to manage it is the trick to living with it, for most. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to begin.

Learning About Tinnitus

About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can hear. The perception of a phantom sound due to an inherent medical issue is the medical description of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.

The most common reason people get tinnitus is loss of hearing. 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. As an example, your spouse talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear transforms them into electrical signals. The electrical impulses are translated into words you can understand by the brain.

You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. If the brain doesn’t think a sound is important to you, it filters it out. 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 essential 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 signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never come due to injury but the brain still expects them. The brain may try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Ringing
  • Roaring
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Clicking

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

There are other reasons besides hearing loss you could have tinnitus. Here are some other possible causes:

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

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

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

Like with most things, prevention is how you avert a problem. Protecting your ears reduces your chance of hearing loss later in life. Tricks to protect your hearing health include:

  • Reducing the amount of time you spend wearing headphones or earbuds.
  • Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.
  • Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.

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

If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms

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

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

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

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

If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, 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 potential causes of the tinnitus such as:

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

Specific medication could cause this issue too such as:

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

Making a change may get rid of the tinnitus.

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

How is Tinnitus Treated?

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

Looking for a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. White noise machines are useful. The ringing goes away when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. 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 device which produces similar tones. It can help you learn not to focus on it.

You will also want to look for ways to avoid tinnitus triggers. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. When the tinnitus begins, write down everything right before you heard the ringing.

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

The diary will allow you to track patterns. You would know to order something different if you had a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.

Your quality of life is affected by tinnitus so your best chance is finding a way to eliminate it or at least lessen its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.