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

Tinnitus is a condition that affects more than 45 million people in this country, according to the National Tinnitus Association. If you have it, don’t worry you are not alone. It’s generally unclear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. Finding ways to deal with it is the trick to living with it, for many. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is an excellent place to start.

Understanding Tinnitus

About one in five people are suffering from tinnitus and can hear sounds that no one else can hear. Medically, tinnitus is described as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical issue. It’s not a sickness of itself, but a symptom, in other words.

The most common reason people develop tinnitus is loss of hearing. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Your brain decides what it needs to know after interpreting the sound it hears. All the sound around is converted by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s only pressure waves. The electrical signals are converted into words you can understand by the brain.

Sound is all around you, but you don’t “hear” it all. If the brain doesn’t think a sound is important to you, it filters it out. You might not hear the wind blowing, as an example. You can feel it, but the brain masks the sound of it passing by your ears because it’s not crucial that you hear it. It would be confusing and distracting if you heard every sound.

When someone suffers from certain forms of hearing loss, there are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret. The signals never come due to damage but the brain still expects them. The brain might try to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that occurs.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Roaring
  • Hissing
  • Clicking
  • Ringing
  • Buzzing

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

There are other reasons besides loss of hearing you might have tinnitus. Here are some other potential factors:

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

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

Prevention is how you avoid a problem as with most things. Protecting your ears decreases your chance of hearing loss later in life. Tricks to protect your hearing health include:

  • Avoiding long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
  • Spending less time using headphones or earbuds.
  • Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.

Get your hearing tested every few years, also. The test allows you to make lifestyle changes and get treatment as well as alerting you to an existing hearing loss problem.

If You do Hear The Ringing

Ringing doesn’t tell you how or why you got tinnitus, but it does tell you that you have it. You can understand more with a little trial and error.

Abstain from wearing headphones or earbuds entirely and see if the sound stops after a while.

Assess your noise exposure. Were you around loud noise the night before the ringing began? Did you, for example:

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

If the answer is yes to any of those situations, it’s likely the tinnitus is short-term.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

Getting an ear exam would be the next step. Some possible causes your physician will look for are:

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

Specific medication may cause this issue too such as:

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

The tinnitus could clear up if you make a change.

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

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Because tinnitus is a side effect and not a disease, treating the cause is the first step. The tinnitus should disappear once you take the proper medication if you have high blood pressure.

Finding a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. White noise machines are useful. The ringing stops when the white noise replaces the sound the brain is missing. You can also get the same effect from a fan or dehumidifier.

Another method is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a device which creates similar tones. It can teach you not to focus on it.

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

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

Tracking patterns is possible in this way. Caffeine is a known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to get something else next time.

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