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

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

Tinnitus technically is not an illness but a symptom of an underlying medical issue like hearing loss and something that over 50 million individuals from the U.S. deal with on regular basis. The phantom sound will start at the most inconvenient times, too, like when you’re watching a favorite TV show, trying to read a book or listening to a friend tell a great tale. Tinnitus can worsen even when you try to go to sleep.

Medical science hasn’t quite pinpointed the reason so many folks suffer from tinnitus or how it happens. The current theory is that the mind creates this noise to balance the silence that accompanies hearing loss. Whatever the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing problem. Consider five ways that tinnitus is such a challenge.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent research indicates that people who experience tinnitus also have more activity in their limbic system of their brain. This system is the portion of the brain responsible for emotions. Until now, most doctors thought that individuals with tinnitus were stressed and that’s the reason why they were always so sensitive. This new study indicates there is far more to it than just stress. There is an organic component that makes those with tinnitus touchy and emotionally sensitive.

2. Tinnitus is Not Easy to Explain

How do you explain to somebody else that you hear weird noises that don’t exist and not feel crazy when you say it. The incapability to discuss tinnitus causes a disconnect. Even if you could tell someone else, it’s not something they truly can relate to unless they experience it for themselves. Even then, they may not have exactly the same signs of tinnitus as you. Support groups are usually available, but that means speaking to a bunch of people you don’t know about something very personal, so it is not an appealing choice to most.

3. Tinnitus is Bothersome

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with noise in the background that you can not get away from or stop. It is a distraction that many find disabling if they are at the office or just doing things around the home. The ringing shifts your focus which makes it tough to remain on track. The inability to concentrate that comes with tinnitus is a real motivation killer, too, which makes you feel lethargic and mediocre.

4. Tinnitus Inhibits Sleep

This might be one of the most crucial side effects of tinnitus. The sound tends to get worse when a sufferer is attempting to fall asleep. It’s unclear why it worsens during the night, but the most logical reason is that the silence around you makes it worse. During the day, other sounds ease the sound of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn everything all off when it is time to go to sleep.

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

5. There’s No Cure For Tinnitus

Just the concept that tinnitus is something you have to live with is tough to come to terms with. Though no cure will shut off that noise for good, some things can be done to assist you find relief. It starts at the doctor’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it’s essential to get a correct diagnosis. For instance, if you hear clicking, perhaps the noise is not tinnitus but a sound related to a jaw problem like TMJ. For some, the cause is a chronic illness that the requires treatment like high blood pressure.

Lots of people will discover their tinnitus is the result of hearing loss and dealing with that problem relieves the buzzing. Obtaining a hearing aid means an increase in the level of noise, so the brain can stop trying to make it to fill a void. Hearing loss may also be easy to solve, such as earwax build up. When the doctor treats the underlying issue, the tinnitus vanishes.

In extreme cases, your doctor may try to reduce the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help lower the ringing you hear, for instance. The doctor may provide you with lifestyle changes which should alleviate the symptoms and make life with tinnitus more tolerable, such as using a sound machine and finding ways to manage anxiety.

Tinnitus presents many hurdles, but there’s hope. Science is learning more every year about how the brain functions and strategies to make life better for those suffering from tinnitus.