Woman with tinnitus trying to muffle the ringing in her ears with a pillow to overcome challenge.

You hear plenty of talk these days about the challenge of living with chronic ailments like high blood pressure or diabetes, but what about tinnitus? It is a chronic illness which has a strong psychological element since it affects so many aspects of someone’s life. Tinnitus presents as ghost noises in one or both ears. Most folks describe the sound as ringing, hissing, buzzing, or clicking that no one else can hear.

Tinnitus technically is not an illness but a symptom of an untreated medical issue like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million people in the U.S. deal with on a day to day basis. The phantom sound tends to begin at the worst possible times, too, like when you are watching a favorite TV show, trying to read a book or listening to a friend tell a great story. Tinnitus can act up even once you try to get some sleep.

Medical science has not quite pinpointed the reason so many people suffer with tinnitus or how it occurs. The accepted theory is that the brain creates this noise to counteract the silence that accompanies hearing loss. Whatever the cause, tinnitus is a life-altering condition. Consider five ways that tinnitus is such a hardship.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent information indicates that people who experience tinnitus have increased activity in the limbic system of their brain. This system is the part of the brain responsible for emotions. Up until this discovery, most doctors thought that individuals with tinnitus were worried and that is why they were always so sensitive. This new study indicates there’s much more to it than simple stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus more irritable and emotionally delicate.

2. Tinnitus is Hard to Discuss

How do you explain to someone else that you hear weird noises that they can’t hear and not feel crazy when you say it. The incapability to talk about tinnitus causes a disconnect. Even if you could tell someone else, it’s not something that they truly understand unless they experience it for themselves. Even then, they may not have the same symptoms of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but that means talking to a lot of people that you don’t know about something very personal, so it is not an appealing option to most.

3. Tinnitus is Distracting

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with sound in the background that you can’t get away from or stop. It’s a distraction that many find disabling if they’re at home or just doing things around the office. The noise changes your focus making it tough to stay on track. The inability to concentrate that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and unworthy.

4. Tinnitus Hampers Rest

This could be one of the most crucial side effects of tinnitus. The sound will amp up when a sufferer is attempting to fall asleep. It’s unclear why it worsens at night, but the most plausible reason is that the silence around you makes it more noticeable. Throughout the day, other noises ease the sound of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn everything all off when it is when you lay down for the night.

Many people use a noise machine or a fan at night to help alleviate their tinnitus. Just that little bit of ambient sound is enough to get your mind to lower the volume on your tinnitus and permit you to get some sleep.

5. There’s No Quick Fix For Tinnitus

Just the concept that tinnitus is something you have to live with is hard to come to terms with. Although no cure will shut off that noise for good, a few things can be done to help you find relief. It starts at the physician’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it’s essential to get a correct diagnosis. For example, if you hear clicking, maybe the noise isn’t tinnitus but a sound associated with a jaw problem like TMJ. For many, the cause is a chronic illness that the requires treatment like hypertension.

Many people will discover their tinnitus is the consequence of hearing loss and dealing with that health problem relieves the noise they hear. Obtaining a hearing aid means an increase in the amount of noise, so the brain can stop trying to make it to fill up the silence. Hearing loss may also be temporary, such as earwax build up. When the physician treats the underlying issue, the tinnitus vanishes.

In extreme cases, your doctor may attempt to reduce the tinnitus medically. Antidepressants may help reduce the noise, as an example. The doctor may suggest lifestyle changes which should alleviate the symptoms and make life with tinnitus simple, such as using a noise machine and finding ways to handle stress.

Tinnitus presents many challenges, but there is hope. Science is learning more every year about how the brain functions and ways to improve life for those struggling with tinnitus.