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

Tinnitus technically isn’t an illness but a symptom of an untreated medical issue like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million individuals in the U.S. deal with on regular basis. The ghost sound tends to begin at the most inconvenient times, too, like when you are watching a favorite TV series, trying to read a magazine or listening to a friend tell a great story. Tinnitus can flare up even once you attempt to get some sleep.

Medical science has not quite pinpointed the reason so many folks suffer from tinnitus or how it occurs. The accepted theory is that the brain creates this noise to balance the silence that comes with 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 research indicates that people who experience tinnitus also have more activity in the limbic system of their brain. The limbic system is the portion of the brain responsible for emotions. Until this discovery, most specialists believed that individuals with tinnitus were worried and that is why they were always so emotional. This new study indicates there’s much more to it than just 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 failure to discuss tinnitus causes a divide. Even if you are able to tell somebody else, it is not something that they truly get unless they suffer from it for themselves. Even then, they might not have the very same symptoms of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but that means talking to a bunch of people that you aren’t comfortable with about something very personal, so it’s 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 get away from or stop. It’s a diversion that many find disabling if they’re at the office or just doing things around the house. The ringing shifts your focus making it hard to stay on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a real motivation killer, too, which makes you feel lethargic and worthless.

4. Tinnitus Disrupts Sleep

This might be one of the most critical side effects of tinnitus. The ringing will get worse when a sufferer is trying to fall asleep. It’s unclear why it increases during the night, but the most logical explanation is that the absence of other noises around you makes it worse. During the day, other sounds 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 sound 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 the tinnitus and permit you to get some sleep.

5. There’s No Quick Fix For Tinnitus

Just the concept that tinnitus is something you must live with is hard to come to terms with. Though no cure will stop that noise 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 critical to get a correct 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 many, the cause is a chronic illness that the requires treatment like high blood pressure.

Many people will find their tinnitus is the consequence of hearing loss and coping with that issue relieves the noise they hear. Obtaining a hearing aid means an increase in the amount of sound, so the brain can stop trying to make some sound to fill in the empty spaces. Hearing loss may also be temporary, such as earwax build up. When the doctor treats the underlying problem, the tinnitus vanishes.

In extreme cases, your doctor may try to treat the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help reduce the noise, as an example. The doctor may suggest lifestyle changes that should alleviate the symptoms and make living with tinnitus simple, like using a sound machine and finding ways to manage anxiety.

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