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How can I get my tinnitus under control?

You cannot control something you don't understand, so the first step in controlling your tinnitus is to understand it well, right?"

The more we know about the problem the better we can fix it. Even if we cannot fix the problem at all, when we know more about it, it becomes easier to handle it, well, not always, I reckon. So first things first.

What could be the source of my tinnitus?

Tinnitus is not a disease or disorder, it is a symptom. So where does tinnitus come from? Here is a list of the top health issues that could cause tinnitus. And remember, your auditory system is as unique as your fingerprint. Your tinnitus could have a completely different cause from someone else's tinnitus.

  • Tinnitus can be associated with hearing loss, so a 10 min discovery exercise is to do an online hearing test to see how your hearing is. If the online test showed some hearing loss it is wise to book an appointment with your audiologist and do a comprehensive hearing test.

  • Ménière’s disease. In this condition, you develop attacks of vertigo (dizziness), hearing loss and tinnitus. It is due to a problem with the cochlea - a snail-shaped chamber filled with fluid, in the inner ear.

  • Exposure to very loud noise. Some people develop persistent tinnitus after being subjected to loud noise for a long time. For example, after years of working in a loud factory. Sometimes permanent tinnitus persists after a one-off loud noise experience. For example, following a rock concert or hearing a shotgun.

  • As an uncommon side-effect of some medicines. For example, aspirin and quinine.

  • Following an ear, neck or head injury.

  • Some other ear disorders such as otosclerosis. This could be detected in your hearing test results.

  • Some uncommon diseases of blood vessels, brain or nerves can cause tinnitus. In these situations, you are likely to have other symptoms or signs such as nerve weakness, etc. However, rarely, tinnitus may be the first symptom to develop.

  • Tinnitus can sometimes be a feature of a lack of iron in the body (anaemia), thyroid disease or diabetes.

  • A tumour called an acoustic neuroma occasionally causes tinnitus; this is usually persistent, pulsatile and in one ear only. If you get the noise only in one ear, it is particularly important that you consult a doctor, so this can be ruled out.

  • An ear infection. The tinnitus tends to clear when the infection clears.

  • Psychological factors may have a role to play. For example, mild tinnitus that is not bothersome may become more bothersome if you become depressed, anxious or stressed.

  • Excessive earwax buildup could also cause mild tinnitus.

  • Grow of skin cells in a colony in the middle ear called cholesteatoma, usually at the top of the eardrum could impose pressure on the eardrum and make your hearing loss, mild pain and tinnitus.

  • Allergy to medicine, food or certain substance e.g. too much coffee, alcohol, smoking, etc.

How can I understand my tinnitus better?

The best advice to know your tinnitus better is to make a journal of the times that you noticed your tinnitus during the day and when doing different things. Take a note when eating or drinking a particular food or drink to set off your tinnitus or made it worse. Write down if you notice doing certain activities such as gardening, or creating art makes your tinnitus quieter. Taking a new medicine or changing the dose of your regular medicine could have a negative impact on your tinnitus. After a couple of weeks, you would have a much better understanding of your tinnitus.

How can I reduce the frequency and the impact of my tinnitus?

Most people with tinnitus hear it louder and quieter over the course of the day. At times your tinnitus may feel more bothersome than other times. The following list presents the factors that could help alleviate your tinnitus.

  1. Avoid exposure to noisy environments - Exposure to loud noise could trigger or intensify your tinnitus. Try avoiding noisy environments such as live concerts. Try using ear plugs, musician plugs and other noise reduction accessories if you wish to be in noisy locations or if your work demand being in a noisy environment.

  2. Avoid total silence - One of the tinnitus theories suggests that tinnitus is the brain's response to the loss of hair cells in readjusting the silence level. As a result, being in absolute silence is the worst thing one with tinnitus could do as the brain intensifies the missing frequencies hence the preception of the hearing (or tinnitus) will be heard louder. Avoid being in total silence.

  3. Your diet - Consumption of certain substances such as salt, nicotine, alcohol or caffeine could trigger your tinnitus. Salt thickens the blood which makes it harder to circulate causing an increase in blood pressure. Take a note in your diary of the food you take to see if there is any correlation between a certain type of food and your tinnitus. You may want to consult with your GP for a complete test.

  4. Blood or vascular disease - Just like other organs in your body, blood circulates through your auditory system. Any vascular or blood-related issues such as gout, or high sugar level (diabetes) could impact the normal function of the cells in the inner ear causing temporary or permanent tinnitus.

  5. Active lifestyle - Physical activity increases the heart rate which enables your inner organs to receive the oxygen and the nutrition they need. Avoid being in one physical state (e.g. working behind the desk) for a long time. Make sure you include regular daily exercise in your life.

  6. Fatigue - Some people have observed an increase in tinnitus when they are tired. Fatigue is a sign of undernourishment or not consuming a balanced diet. Consult a dietician to know if your daily diet contains the necessary vitamins and minerals.

  7. Stress - Stress is very common due to work pressures and lifestyle changes. Our body releases certain chemicals in response to stress, and continuous secretion of these chemicals is harmful. Again, patients report hearing their tinnitus louder towards the end of the day or when they are stressed out. Make short breaks during the day to break the stress. Consider yoga, self-awareness and meditation.

Disclaimer: Please note that the tinnitus management techniques provided in this article are not medical advice, but only based on the professional experience and academic knowledge of the author and by no means should be used without prior consultation with a qualified physician or audiologist.

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