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Tackle Tinnitus With This Ultimate Checklist

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. If you have it, rest assured you are not alone. There is no cure, and it’s not absolutely obvious why some people get tinnitus. For many, the trick to living with it is to find ways to deal with it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is a great place to start.

Learning About Tinnitus

About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can hear. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical problem is the medical definition of tinnitus. It’s not an illness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most common reason people get tinnitus is loss of hearing. The brain is attempting to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. A lot of the time, your brain works to interpret the sound you hear and then decides 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 impulses are translated into words you can understand by the brain.

You don’t actually “hear” all the sound that is around you. The brain filters out the sound 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. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

When someone develops certain forms of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The brain expects them, but due to damage in the inner ear, they never arrive. When that happens, the brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill that space.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Clicking
  • Ringing
  • Roaring

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

Loss of hearing is not the only reason you might have tinnitus. Other possible factors include:

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

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

Prevention is Your Ear’s Best Friend

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

  • Spending less time using headphones or earbuds.
  • When you’re at work or at home reduce long term exposure to loud noises.
  • Consulting a doctor if you have an ear infection.

Every few years get your hearing tested, too. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle changes to avoid further damage.

If You do Hear The Ringing

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.

Find out if the sound stops after a while if you refrain from wearing headphones or earbuds.

Take a close look at your noise exposure. The night before the ringing began were you around loud noise? For instance, did you:

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

The tinnitus is probably temporary if you answered yes to any of these scenarios.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

Having an ear exam would be the next step. Your physician will look for potential causes of the tinnitus like:

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

Here are some specific medications which could cause this problem too:

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

The tinnitus may go away if you make a change.

If there is no evident cause, then the doctor can order a hearing examination, or you can schedule one yourself. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can lessen the ringing and improve your situation.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Because tinnitus isn’t an illness, 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 bring it down, and the tinnitus should fade away.

For some people, the only solution is to deal with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to control it. White noise machines can be useful. They generate the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing goes away. You can also get the same result from a fan or dehumidifier.

Tinnitus retraining is another method. You wear a device that produces a tone to cover up the frequencies of the tinnitus. You can use this technique to learn not to pay attention to it.

You will also need to find ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. They are different for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing began.

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

Tracking patterns is possible using this method. You would know to order something else if you drank a double espresso each time because caffeine is a known trigger.

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

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