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Coping With Tinnitus: 6 Tips to Help

A female doctor using an otoscope to look in the ear of an older woman wearing a gold colored shirt.

Dealing with tinnitus day in and day out can be a struggle. “Ringing in the ears” is a common description of tinnitus, but it can also sound like buzzing, humming, whistling, chirping, hissing, swishing and clicking noises. Tinnitus affects many adults, but its prevalence increases with age with nearly 1 in 4 adults 65 and older experiencing tinnitus.  

What is Tinnitus and What Causes It?

“Tinnitus is the perception of sound that does not have an external source, so other people can’t hear it,” according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Phantom sounds from tinnitus may be soft or loud, low or high pitched. They may be present all the time or they could come and go. Although tinnitus causes you to hear phantom sounds, the condition doesn’t come from your ears; it comes from your brain.

Doctors don’t fully understand what causes tinnitus, but the following have been linked to the condition:

  • Loud noise exposure: People who have worked noisy jobs, such as in construction, military or music, tend to be especially affected.
  • Hearing loss: Most people with tinnitus have some degree of hearing loss. However, not everyone with hearing loss develops tinnitus.
  • Ear wax or ear infection: Once these issues are addressed, tinnitus often goes away.
  • Head or neck injuries or jaw misalignment: If the structure of the ear is damaged, it could cause tinnitus.
  • Medications: Medications most commonly associated with tinnitus include: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin), certain antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs, anti-malaria medications, and antidepressants.
  • Certain chronic health conditions: Such as high or low blood pressure, allergies, diabetes, tumor and thyroid problems.

How Do I Know if I Have Tinnitus?

There’s no specific test that can help diagnose tinnitus, but it’s important to go to the doctor if you’re experiencing phantom noises in your ears. Begin by visiting your primary care physician, who will likely check your ears for infection or wax. You can also visit an ear, nose throat (ENT) doctor and an audiologist, who can check your hearing and diagnose tinnitus.

Seniors who are dealing with tinnitus may be concerned about whether visits to an audiologist are covered by Medicare. Unfortunately, Original Medicare doesn’t cover hearing care; however, some Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement plans do. Check with your plan to see if hearing care is included.

Is anxiety preventing you from making a doctor’s appointment? These tips can help.

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How to Cope With Tinnitus

Tinnitus is an extremely bothersome condition for many people. It can impact your quality of life, causing anxiety, irritability, depression, concentration difficulties and sleep issues.

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for tinnitus, but there are ways to help reduce symptoms. If you’re struggling with tinnitus, here are six tips that may help.

  1. Avoid complete silence: This can make tinnitus worse! Play soft music or use a white noise machine to distract yourself from tinnitus. The American Tinnitus Association offers free sound therapy that can help diminish the presence of phantom sounds.
  2. Avoid triggers: Stress, fatigue, loud noises, caffeine, alcohol and high sodium can all trigger tinnitus.
  3. Use hearing aids if needed: For those with hearing loss, hearing aids may help. Some hearing aids even have built-in tinnitus maskers—perfectly fine-tuned noise frequency that matches and “camouflages” ringing or buzzing in your ears.
  4. Talk to your doctor about medications: While there aren’t any medications that treat tinnitus, certain drugs may help with anxiety, depression or insomnia as a result of tinnitus.
  5. Practice healthy habits: Exercise, get enough sleep, eat well and keep your stress levels under control.
  6. Get individual or group therapy: Therapy can help improve quality of life for people who suffer from tinnitus by helping them learn how to control their emotional response to the condition.

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