Hearing Associates of Libertyville, IL

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. Don’t worry, if you have it, you’re not alone. It’s often not clear why people get tinnitus and there is no cure. For many, the secret to living with it is to come up with ways to deal with it. An excellent place to begin to tackle tinnitus is the ultimate checklist.

Understanding Tinnitus

About one in five people have tinnitus and can hear noises that no one else can hear. The perception of a phantom sound caused by an underlying medical problem is the medical definition of tinnitus. In other words, it’s a symptom, not an illness itself.

Hearing loss is the most common reason people get tinnitus. The brain is attempting to fill in some gaps and that’s one way of thinking of it. A lot of the time, your mind works to translate the sound you hear and then decides if you need to know about it. For example, your someone talking to you is only sound waves until the inner ear converts them into electrical signals. The electrical impulses are converted 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. 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 capable of listening to every sound, it would be both distracting and confusing.

When someone suffers from certain kinds of hearing loss, there are less electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The brain expects them, but due to injury in the inner ear, they never arrive. When that happens, the brain might try to generate a sound of its own to fill that space.

For tinnitus suffers, that sound is:

  • Hissing
  • Clicking
  • Ringing
  • Roaring
  • Buzzing

It might be a soft, loud, low pitched, or high pitched phantom sound.

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

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

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

Your Ear’s Best Friend is Prevention

Prevention is how you prevent a problem like with most things. Decreasing your chances of hearing loss later in life begins with protecting your ears now. Check out these tips to protect your ears:

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

Every few years have your hearing checked, too. The test not only alerts you to a hearing loss problem, but it allows you to get treatment or make lifestyle changes to lessen further damage.

If You Notice Tinnitus Symptoms

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

Find out if the sound stops 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? Did you, for example:

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

If the answer is yes to any of those scenarios, it’s likely the tinnitus is temporary.

If The Tinnitus Doesn’t Get Better

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

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

Certain medication might cause this issue too like:

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

The tinnitus might go away if you make a change.

You can schedule a hearing exam if you can’t find any other apparent cause. If you do have hearing loss, hearing aids can minimize the ringing and improve your situation.

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 disappear.

For some people, the only answer is to deal with the tinnitus, which means looking for ways to suppress it. White noise machines can be useful. They produce the noise the brain is waiting for and the ringing stops. You can also try a fan, humidifier or dehumidifier to get the result.

Another approach is tinnitus retraining. The frequencies of tinnitus are hidden by a machine which produces similar tones. It can help you learn not to focus on it.

You will also want to discover ways to avoid 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?

Tracking patterns is possible using this method. Caffeine is a well-known trigger, so if you drank a double espresso each time, you know to order 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 lessen its impact. To learn more about your tinnitus, schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist today.

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