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. Rest assured, 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 secret to living with it, for many. A perfect place to start to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

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 due to an underlying medical issue is the medical description of tinnitus. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most prevalent reason people get tinnitus is hearing loss. Think of it as the brain’s method of filling in some gaps. Your brain makes the decision as to what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. As an example, your someone talking to you is just sound waves until the inner ear transforms them into electrical impulses. 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 sound it doesn’t think is important to you. As an example, you don’t always hear the wind blowing. Because it’s not important, the brain masks the sound of it as it passes by your ears even though you can feel it. If you were able to listen to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.

When someone develops certain kinds of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The brain expects them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never arrive. 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
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Clicking

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

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

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

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

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Prevention is how you avoid an issue like with most things. Reducing your chances of hearing loss later in life starts with protecting your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:

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

Get your hearing tested every few years, too. The test not only points out hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle adjustments to lessen 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. You can understand more with a little trial and error.

See if the sound goes away over time if you avoid wearing headphones or earbuds.

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

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

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

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

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

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

Here are some specific medications that might cause this problem too:

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

Making a change might get rid of the tinnitus.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other evident cause. Hearing aids can better your situation and lessen the ringing, if you do have hearing loss, by using hearing aids.

Treating Tinnitus

Because tinnitus isn’t a disease, 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 go away.

For some people, the only solution is to deal with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to suppress it. A helpful tool is a white noise machine. The ringing goes away 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.

Tinnitus retraining is another method. You wear a device that produces a tone to hide the frequencies of the tinnitus. It can teach you not to focus on it.

You will also want to look for ways to stay away from tinnitus triggers. They are not the same for each person, so start keeping a diary. Write down everything before the ringing began.

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

The diary will allow you to track patterns. Caffeine is a well-known trigger, so if you had a double espresso each time, you know to get something else next time.

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