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

You hear plenty of talk these days about the challenge of living with chronic ailments such as high blood pressure or diabetes, but what about tinnitus? It is a chronic illness that has a strong psychological element since it affects so many areas of someone’s life. Tinnitus presents as ghost noises in both ears. Most people describe the noise as ringing, buzzing, clicking or hissing that nobody else can hear.

Tinnitus technically isn’t an illness but a symptom of an untreated medical problem like hearing loss and something that over 50 million individuals in the U.S. deal with on a day to day basis. The phantom sound will begin at the most inconvenient times, too, like when you’re watching a favorite TV series, trying to read a magazine or listening to a friend tell a terrific story. Tinnitus can flare up even once you try to go to sleep.

Medical science has not quite pinpointed the reason so many people suffer with tinnitus or how it happens. The accepted theory is that the brain creates this sound to balance the silence that comes with hearing loss. Regardless of the cause, tinnitus is a life-altering problem. Consider five ways that tinnitus is such a problem.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent information indicates that individuals who experience tinnitus also have more activity in the limbic system of the mind. This system is the part of the brain responsible for emotions. Up until now, most doctors thought that individuals with tinnitus were worried and that is the reason why they were always so emotional. This new theory indicates there is far more to it than just stress. There is an organic component that makes those with tinnitus more irritable and emotionally frail.

2. Tinnitus is Not Easy to Explain

How do you explain to someone else that you hear weird noises that they can’t hear and not feel crazy once you say it. The helplessness to go over tinnitus is isolating. Even if you can tell somebody else, it is not something they truly can relate to unless they experience it for themselves. Even then, they might not have the very same signs of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but it means speaking to a bunch of people you don’t know about something very personal, so it’s not an attractive option to most.

3. Tinnitus is Distracting

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with sound in the background that you can not get away from or stop. It’s a diversion that many find crippling whether they’re at home or just doing things around the office. The ringing changes your attention making it hard to remain on track. The inability to concentrate that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, which makes you feel lethargic and mediocre.

4. Tinnitus Impedes Sleep

This could be one of the most critical side effects of tinnitus. The sound will amp up when a person is trying to fall asleep. It’s not understood why it worsens at night, but the most logical reason is that the lack of sounds around you makes it more noticeable. During the day, other sounds ease the noise 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 alleviate their tinnitus. Just that little bit of background sound is enough to get your brain to lower the volume on your tinnitus and permit you to get some sleep.

5. There’s No Quick Fix For Tinnitus

Just the concept that tinnitus is something you have to live with is tough to accept. Though no cure will stop that ringing for good, some things can be done to help you find relief. It starts at the physician’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it’s critical to get a correct diagnosis. By way of instance, if you hear clicking, perhaps the noise is not tinnitus but a sound associated with a jaw problem such as TMJ. For some, the cause is a chronic illness that the requires treatment like hypertension.

Many people will find their tinnitus is the consequence of hearing loss and coping with that health problem relieves the buzzing. Getting a hearing aid means an increase in the level of noise, so the brain can stop trying to create it to fill a void. Hearing loss can also be easy to solve, such as earwax build up. Once the physician treats the underlying problem, the tinnitus fades.

In extreme cases, your doctor may try to treat the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help lower the noise, as an example. The doctor may suggest lifestyle changes that should alleviate the symptoms and make life with tinnitus easier, like using a sound machine and finding ways to handle anxiety.

Tinnitus presents many challenges, but there’s hope. Medical science is learning more every year about how the brain works and ways to improve life for those struggling with tinnitus.

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