You hear plenty of talk these days about the challenge of living with chronic ailments like diabetes or high blood pressure, but what about tinnitus? It’s a chronic illness that has a strong emotional component since it affects so many areas of someone’s life. Tinnitus presents as phantom noises in one or both ears. Most folks describe the noise as ringing, hissing, buzzing, or clicking that no one else can hear.
Tinnitus technically isn’t an illness but a symptom of an underlying medical problem like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million individuals in the U.S. deal with on a day to day basis. The phantom sound will start at the worst possible times, too, like when you’re watching a favorite TV show, attempting to read a magazine or listening to a friend tell a terrific tale. Tinnitus can flare up even when you attempt to go to sleep.
Medical science has not quite pinpointed the reason so many people suffer from tinnitus or how it happens. The accepted theory is that the brain creates this sound to balance the silence that accompanies hearing loss. Regardless of the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing issue. Consider five ways that tinnitus is such a hardship.
1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing
Recent research indicates that people who experience tinnitus have increased activity in their limbic system of their mind. The limbic system is the portion of the brain responsible for emotions. Until now, most specialists believed that individuals with tinnitus were worried and that is the reason why they were always so sensitive. This new theory indicates there is much more to it than simple stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus more irritable and emotionally delicate.
2. Tinnitus is Hard to Explain
How do you explain to someone else that you hear weird noises that don’t exist and not feel crazy once you say it. The incapability to talk about tinnitus causes a disconnect. Even if you could tell someone else, it’s not something they truly get unless they suffer from it for themselves. Even then, they may not have the very same signs of tinnitus as you. Support groups are usually available, but that means speaking to a bunch of people you aren’t comfortable with 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’t get away from or stop. It is a diversion that many find debilitating whether they are at home or just doing things around work. The noise shifts your focus which makes it hard to remain on track. The inability to concentrate that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and worthless.
4. Tinnitus Hampers Rest
This is one of the most critical side effects of tinnitus. The ringing tends to amp up when a sufferer is trying to fall asleep. It’s unclear why it worsens at night, but the most plausible reason is that the lack of sounds around you makes it worse. During the day, other sounds ease the sound of tinnitus such as the TV, but you turn everything all off when it’s time to go to bed.
Many people use a sound 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 the tinnitus and allow you to get some sleep.
5. There is No Cure For Tinnitus
Just the concept that tinnitus is something you have to live with is tough to accept. Although no cure will stop that noise for good, there are things can be done to assist you find relief. It starts at the doctor’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it is critical to get a proper diagnosis. For example, if you hear clicking, perhaps the noise isn’t 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 result of hearing loss and coping with that issue relieves the noise they hear. Obtaining a hearing aid means an increase in the amount of noise, so the brain can stop trying to create some sound to fill in the silence. Hearing loss may also be temporary, such as earwax build up. Once the physician treats the underlying issue, the tinnitus vanishes.
In extreme cases, your physician may attempt to treat the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help reduce the noise, for instance. The doctor may suggest lifestyle changes which should alleviate the symptoms and make life with tinnitus easier, such as using a sound machine and finding ways to handle stress.
Tinnitus presents many hurdles, but there’s hope. Medical science is learning more each year about how the brain functions and ways to improve life for those struggling with tinnitus.