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 diabetes or high blood pressure, but what about tinnitus? It is a chronic illness that has a strong emotional component because it affects so many aspects of someone’s life. Tinnitus presents as ghost sounds in one or both ears. Most folks describe the noise as ringing, clicking, buzzing, or hissing that nobody else can hear.

Tinnitus technically is not an illness but a symptom of an untreated medical problem like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million people in the U.S. deal with on daily basis. The ghost sound will start at the worst possible times, too, like when you are watching a favorite TV series, attempting to read a magazine or listening to a friend tell a great tale. Tinnitus can flare up even once you try to go to bed.

Medical science hasn’t quite pinpointed the reason so many folks suffer with tinnitus or how it happens. The accepted theory is that the mind creates this noise to counteract the silence that comes with hearing loss. Regardless of the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing problem. Consider five ways that tinnitus is such a hardship.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent research indicates that people who experience tinnitus have more activity in the limbic system of their mind. This system is the portion of the brain responsible for emotions. Up until now, most doctors believed that people with tinnitus were worried and that is why they were always so sensitive. This new research indicates there’s much more to it than simple stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus testy and emotionally fragile.

2. Tinnitus is Not Easy to Explain

How do you explain to somebody else that you hear weird noises coming from inside your head and not feel crazy once you say it. The helplessness to discuss tinnitus causes a divide. Even if you are able to tell somebody else, it’s not something that they truly can relate to unless they suffer from it for themselves. Even then, they might not have exactly the same signs of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but that means talking to a lot of people that you aren’t comfortable with about something very personal, so it is not an appealing option to most.

3. Tinnitus is Annoying

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with sound in the background that you can’t turn down or turn off. It’s a diversion that many find debilitating whether they are at the office or just doing things around the house. The ringing changes your attention which makes it hard to remain on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a real motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and worthless.

4. Tinnitus Impedes Rest

This might be one of the most crucial side effects of tinnitus. The sound tends to get worse when a person is trying to fall asleep. It’s unclear why it worsens during the night, but the most logical explanation is that the absence of other noises around you makes it more active. Throughout the day, other sounds ease the noise of tinnitus like the TV, but you turn off everything when it’s when you lay down for the night.

Many men and women use a noise machine or a fan at night to help relieve their tinnitus. Just that little bit of ambient sound is enough to get your brain to reduce the volume on your tinnitus and allow you to get some sleep.

5. There’s No Cure For Tinnitus

Just the idea that tinnitus is something that you have to live with is tough to come to terms with. Though no cure will stop that noise for good, a few things can be done to help you find relief. It starts at the physician’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it is essential to get a correct diagnosis. For instance, if you hear clicking, maybe the sound is not tinnitus but a sound associated with a jaw problem like TMJ. For some, the cause is a chronic illness the requires treatment like high blood pressure.

Lots of people will discover their tinnitus is the consequence of hearing loss and dealing with that issue relieves the buzzing. Getting a hearing aid means an increase in the level of sound, so the brain can stop trying to create it to fill a void. Hearing loss may also be temporary, such as earwax build up. When the physician treats the underlying issue, the tinnitus vanishes.

In extreme cases, your specialist may try to reduce the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help reduce the noise, for instance. The doctor may provide you with lifestyle changes which should alleviate the symptoms and make life with tinnitus simple, like using a sound machine and finding ways to manage anxiety.

Tinnitus presents many struggles, but there is hope. Medical science is learning more each year about how the brain works and ways to make life better for those suffering from tinnitus.

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