Man with his hand over his ear suffering from Tinnitus.

You try to ignore it, but it doesn’t go away. It gets worse when the power goes out, leaving you with just the sound of your own breath. If you don’t have a loud fan going at night, this white noise won’t let you sleep.

It’s getting harder to understand friends and family speaking at a normal volume in the same room. But you’re not suffering from hearing loss, are you? You can still hear what people say. It just sounds like there’s some sound transposed on top everything you hear.

It sounds like that white noise you’re hearing is tinnitus. Let’s look at where it came from, what it is and what you may be able to do to get rid of it.

What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a form of hearing loss. It’s characterized by a constant or intermittent noise that sounds like it’s on top of what you hear. Depending on the type of tinnitus you have, it may be unnoticeable most of the time. Or it may feel deafening, threatening to take your sanity.

You’ve probably tried to explain to people what you’re experiencing, but this form of hearing loss is tough for people to understand. Especially if they’ve never experienced it for themselves.

How can you hear something that isn’t there? Is it a hallucination? How can a sound in your ears keep you from understanding those around you? Or sleeping?

It’s Not the Same for Everyone

In addition to being hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have it, it can get complicated when you try to talk to someone who has it. They may be experiencing very different symptoms than your own. That might lead you to think what you have isn’t tinnitus. Or you may think yours isn’t as bad.

But chances are, it is.

Tinnitus takes many forms. These include but aren’t limited to hearing:

  • TV static
  • Humming
  • Buzzing
  • Ringing
  • Thumping
  • Dial tone

It can even sound like a song in your head that’s always with you.

In most cases, you’re the only one who can hear it. So if you ask a doctor to confirm your symptoms, they can’t. They just have to take your word for it on this one.

This can cause people to feel invalidated by a doctor who doesn’t specialize in hearing loss.

Sometimes Your Doctor Can Hear It Too

It’s a genuine and annoying condition. In fact, in some rare instances, an audiologist trained to treat tinnitus can use instruments to hear what you’re hearing.

How Did You Get Tinnitus?

The most common cause of tinnitus is loud noise that you were exposed to over a period of time. It’s very common among musicians and other people who spend a lot of time around loud music. If you turn your headphones or earbuds way up, this may be the cause.

Some professions are loud enough to lead to tinnitus like:

  • Factory Work
  • Farming
  • Pilot
  • Motorcycle Cop
  • Bouncer
  • Bartender

In these instances, the tiny hairs inside the inner ear were damaged by the noise. These hairs pick up sound and help the brain understand what you’re hearing. Unlike the rest of your body, when these hairs are damaged, they don’t heal or reproduce.

This leaves you with a distorted sense of hearing.

Stress, anxiety, depression and high blood pressure may cause tinnitus and make existing symptoms worse. Some women get tinnitus during pregnancy. This may be due to hormonal shifts and other pregnancy-related conditions.

Are There Any Treatments for Tinnitus that Work?

First, if you have a condition that makes tinnitus worse like anxiety or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about treatment for that condition.

Once any known medical condition has been treated, it’s time to look at other options. These include:

  • Meditation, Yoga or other relaxing activity to reduce stress
  • Using white noise to mask the sound while you sleep
  • A hearing aid, which can be set to cancel the sound
  • Sound treatment, which trains your ear to ignore the sound

You may also find that some foods or activities make it worse. Start keeping a tinnitus journal. Document your diet, exercise, and activities. Some find that coffee, salt, and artificial sweeteners make it worse.

If a food, activity, person or place is making it worse, you may want to avoid when you can.

Most importantly, get your hearing tested. Find out how much it’s impacting your ability to understand when people speak. It may be worse than you think.

Discuss treatment options with your local hearing care professional.