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

Tinnitus technically is not an illness but a symptom of an underlying medical problem like hearing loss and something that over 50 million individuals from the U.S. deal with on daily basis. The phantom sound will begin at the worst possible times, too, like when you’re watching a favorite TV series, trying to read a book or listening to a friend tell a terrific story. Tinnitus can act up even when you try to go to bed.

Medical science has not quite pinpointed the reason so many people suffer from tinnitus or how it occurs. The accepted theory is that the brain creates this noise to counteract the silence that accompanies hearing loss. Whatever the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing issue. Consider five reasons tinnitus is such a problem.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

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

2. Tinnitus is Tough to Discuss

How do you explain to somebody else that you hear weird noises that don’t exist and not feel crazy when you say it. The failure to discuss tinnitus causes a divide. Even if you are able to tell someone else, it’s not something they truly understand unless they experience it for themselves. Even then, they may not have the same symptoms of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but it means talking to a lot of people that you don’t know about something very personal, so it is not an attractive 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 is a diversion that many find debilitating whether they are at work or just doing things around the home. The ringing shifts your focus which makes it hard to stay on track. The inability to concentrate that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and unworthy.

4. Tinnitus Hampers Sleep

This could be one of the most crucial side effects of tinnitus. The ringing tends to get louder when a person is trying to fall asleep. It’s not understood why it worsens at night, but the most logical explanation is that the lack of sounds around you makes it worse. Throughout the day, other noises ease the noise of tinnitus such as the TV, but you turn off everything when it’s time for bed.

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

5. There is No Cure For Tinnitus

Just the concept that tinnitus is something you must live with is tough to accept. Although no cure will shut off that noise permanently, a few things can be done to help you find relief. It starts at the doctor’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it’s essential to get a correct diagnosis. By way of example, if you hear clicking, perhaps the sound isn’t tinnitus but a sound associated with a jaw problem like 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 problem relieves the noise they hear. 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 quick to treat, such as earwax build up. Once the doctor treats the underlying issue, the tinnitus dulls.

In extreme cases, your doctor may attempt to reduce the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help reduce the ringing you hear, for instance. The doctor can suggest lifestyle changes that should ease the symptoms and make life with tinnitus more tolerable, such as using a noise machine and finding ways to manage anxiety.

Tinnitus presents many struggles, but there’s hope. Science is learning more each year about how the brain functions and strategies to improve life for those suffering from tinnitus.