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

You hear plenty of talk nowadays about the challenge of living with chronic ailments like high blood pressure or diabetes, but what about tinnitus? It’s a chronic illness which has a strong psychological element because it affects so many aspects of a person’s life. Tinnitus presents as phantom sounds in both ears. Most folks describe the sound as ringing, hissing, buzzing, or clicking that no one else can hear.

Tinnitus technically isn’t an illness but a symptom of an another medical problem like hearing loss and something that more than 50 million people from the U.S. deal with on a day to day basis. The ghost sound tends to begin at the worst possible times, too, like when you are watching a favorite TV show, attempting to read a book or listening to a friend tell a terrific tale. Tinnitus can worsen even once you attempt to get some sleep.

Medical science has not quite pinpointed the reason so many people suffer with tinnitus or how it occurs. The accepted theory is that the mind creates this noise to counteract the silence that accompanies hearing loss. Regardless of the cause, tinnitus is a life-changing condition. Consider five reasons tinnitus is such a challenge.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

Recent research indicates that individuals who experience tinnitus have increased activity in their limbic system of their brain. The limbic system is the portion of the brain responsible for emotions. Until now, most doctors believed that people with tinnitus were stressed and that’s the reason why they were always so sensitive. This new research indicates there is much more to it than simple stress. There’s an organic component that makes those with tinnitus testy 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 when you say it. The incapability to tell others about tinnitus is isolating. Even if you are able to tell someone else, it is not something they truly can relate to unless they experience it for themselves. Even then, they may not have exactly the same symptoms of tinnitus as you. Support groups exist, but it means speaking to a bunch of people you don’t know 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 noise in the background that you can not escape. It’s a diversion that many find disabling whether they are at work or just doing things around the house. The ringing shifts your attention making 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 Hinders Rest

This could be one of the most crucial side effects of tinnitus. The ringing will get louder when a sufferer is trying to fall asleep. It is not understood why it increases during the night, but the most logical explanation is that the silence around you makes it more active. Throughout the day, other sounds ease the sound of tinnitus such as the TV, but you turn off everything when it is time to sleep.

A lot of people use a noise machine or a fan at night to help alleviate their tinnitus. Just that little bit of background noise is enough to get your brain to reduce the volume on the tinnitus and allow you to get some sleep.

5. There is No Magic Cure For Tinnitus

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

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

In extreme cases, your specialist may try to combat the tinnitus medically. Tricyclic antidepressants may help lower the ringing you hear, for instance. The doctor can suggest lifestyle changes which should alleviate the symptoms and make living with tinnitus easier, such as using a noise machine and finding ways to handle anxiety.

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