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

Tinnitus technically is not an illness but a symptom of an untreated medical issue like hearing loss and something that over 50 million people in the U.S. deal with on daily basis. The ghost 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 great tale. Tinnitus can flare up even once you attempt to go to 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 sound to counteract the silence that comes with hearing loss. Whatever the cause, tinnitus is a life-altering issue. Consider five ways that tinnitus is such a hardship.

1. Tinnitus Impacts Emotional Processing

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

2. Tinnitus is Tough to Talk About

How do you explain to someone else that you hear weird noises that they can’t hear and not feel crazy when you say it. The inability to go over tinnitus causes a disconnect. Even if you are able to tell someone else, it is not something that they truly get unless they suffer from it for themselves. Even then, they might not have exactly the same symptoms of tinnitus as you. Support groups are usually available, but that means talking to a bunch of people you don’t know about something very personal, so it’s not an attractive choice to most.

3. Tinnitus is Bothersome

Imagine trying to write a paper or study with sound in the background that you can’t turn down or shut off. It is a diversion that many find crippling whether they’re at work or just doing things around the home. The noise shifts your focus which makes it hard to stay on track. The inability to focus that comes with tinnitus is a true motivation killer, too, making you feel lethargic and useless.

4. Tinnitus Hampers Rest

This could be one of the most crucial side effects of tinnitus. The ringing will get louder when a person is attempting to fall asleep. It is unclear why it worsens during the night, but the most plausible reason is that the lack of sounds 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 sleep.

Many 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 mind to lower the volume on your tinnitus and allow you to fall asleep.

5. There is No Quick Fix For Tinnitus

Just the idea that tinnitus is something that you must live with is hard to accept. Although no cure will stop that noise for good, a few things can be done to assist you find relief. It starts at the physician’s office. Tinnitus is a symptom, and it is vital to get a proper diagnosis. For instance, if you hear clicking, maybe the sound isn’t tinnitus but a sound associated with a jaw problem like 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 health 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 make it to fill in the silence. Hearing loss can also be temporary, such as earwax build up. Once the physician treats the underlying issue, the tinnitus dulls.

In extreme cases, your physician may attempt to reduce the tinnitus medically. Antidepressants may help reduce the noise, as an example. 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 handle stress.

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