Hearing Health Blog

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

Tinnitus is a condition that impacts 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. There is no cure, and it’s not always obvious why some people get tinnitus. For most, the secret to living with it is to find ways to manage it. The ultimate checklist to tackle tinnitus is an excellent place to start.

Getting to Know Tinnitus

About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can. Medically, tinnitus is defined as the perception of a phantom sound caused by an inherent medical issue. In other words, it’s a symptom, not a sickness itself.

The most common reason people develop tinnitus is hearing loss. Think of it as the brain’s way of filling in some gaps. Most of the time, your mind works to translate the sound you hear and then determines if you need to know about it. All the sound around is converted by the ear into electrical signals but before that, it’s just pressure waves. The electrical impulses are translated into words you can comprehend 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. You may not hear the wind blowing, as an example. Because it’s not essential, 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.

There are less electrical signals for the brain to interpret when someone suffers from hearing loss. The signals never come due to injury but the brain still waits for them. The brain may attempt to create a sound of its own to fill the space when that happens.

Some Sounds tinnitus sufferers hear are:

  • Roaring
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Ringing
  • Clicking

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 causes:

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

Although physically harmless, Anxiety and depression have been linked to tinnitus and high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping and other complications can occur.

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

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

  • Seeing a doctor if you have an ear infection.
  • Reducing long-term exposure to loud noises at work or home.
  • Reducing the amount of time you spend using headphones or earbuds.

Get your hearing examined 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.

Avoid 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? For example, did you:

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

If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, chances are the tinnitus is short-term.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t go Away

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

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

Certain medication might cause this issue too such as:

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

The tinnitus could go away 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 minimize the ringing and better your situation.

How is Tinnitus Treated?

Because tinnitus isn’t a disease, but rather a side effect of something else, the first step is to treat the cause. If you have high blood pressure, medication will bring it down, and the tinnitus should disappear.

Looking for a way to control tinnitus is, for some, the only way to live with it. A helpful device is a white noise machine. The ringing stops when the white noise takes the place of the sound the brain is missing. You can also use a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the same effect.

Tinnitus retraining is another strategy. The frequencies of tinnitus are masked by a machine which produces similar tones. It can help you learn not to focus on it.

Also, avoiding tinnitus triggers is important. Start keeping a diary because tinnitus triggers are not the same for everyone. Write down everything before the ringing started.

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

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

Tinnitus affects your quality of life, so finding ways to reduce 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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