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

You hear a lot of talk these days about the challenge of living with chronic diseases 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 areas of a person’s life. Tinnitus presents as ghost sounds in both ears. Most people describe the sound as hissing, clicking, buzzing, or ringing 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 more than 50 million individuals from the U.S. deal with on daily basis. The ghost sound will start at the most inconvenient times, too, like when you’re watching a favorite TV series, trying to read a book or listening to a friend tell a great tale. Tinnitus can worsen even when you try to get some sleep.

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

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent information indicates that individuals who experience tinnitus also have more activity in the limbic system of the mind. The limbic system is the portion of the brain responsible for emotions. Until this discovery, most specialists believed that people with tinnitus were worried and that’s why they were always so emotional. This new theory indicates there is much more to it than just stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus testy and emotionally sensitive.

2. Tinnitus is Not Easy to Talk About

How do you explain to somebody else that you hear weird noises coming from inside your head and not feel crazy when you say it. The failure to discuss tinnitus causes a disconnect. Even if you can tell someone else, it’s not something they truly understand unless they experience it for themselves. Even then, they may not have exactly the same signs of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but that means speaking to a bunch of people you aren’t comfortable with about something very personal, so it is not an appealing 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 is a distraction that many find crippling if they’re at home or just doing things around work. The ringing changes your focus which makes it tough to stay on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, which makes you feel lethargic and unworthy.

4. Tinnitus Hinders Sleep

This could be one of the most critical side effects of tinnitus. The sound will get louder when a person is trying to fall asleep. It’s not certain why it increases at night, but the most plausible reason is that the absence of other noises around you makes it worse. During the day, other sounds ease the sound of tinnitus such as the TV, but you turn off everything when it’s time to go to bed.

Many men and women use a noise machine or a fan at night to help alleviate their tinnitus. Just that little bit of ambient sound is enough to get your brain to lower the volume on your tinnitus and permit you to fall asleep.

5. There’s No Cure For Tinnitus

Just the idea that tinnitus is something you must live with is tough to accept. Although no cure will shut off that ringing permanently, a few things can be done to assist you find relief. It starts at the physician’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it’s essential to get a correct diagnosis. By way of instance, if you hear clicking, maybe the sound is not tinnitus but a sound associated with a jaw problem like TMJ. For many, the cause is a chronic illness the requires treatment like hypertension.

Lots of people will find their tinnitus is the result of hearing loss and dealing with that problem relieves the noise they hear. Getting a hearing aid means an increase in the amount of sound, so the brain can stop trying to create some sound to fill up the silence. Hearing loss can also be quick to treat, such as earwax build up. Once the physician treats the underlying cause, the tinnitus dulls.

In extreme cases, your doctor may attempt to reduce the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help lower the noise, for instance. The doctor may provide you with lifestyle changes that should alleviate the symptoms and make life with tinnitus easier, like using a noise machine and finding ways to manage stress.

Tinnitus presents many challenges, but there’s hope. Science is learning more each year about how the brain functions and ways to make life better for those struggling with tinnitus.

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