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Have you ever been to a concert that rocked your world only to realize afterward that you had a persistent ringing in your ears? Many people experience ringing sounds after a loud or sudden noise, but others may develop a chronic buzzing or ringing for other reasons.

This common condition is called tinnitus, and it affects nearly 50 million Americans, according to the American Tinnitus Association. Here are six steps you can take if you think you might have tinnitus:

Learn about the symptoms of tinnitus

Tinnitus is usually a symptom of an underlying condition, so it’s important to report to your doctor, even if your symptoms aren’t consistent. Hearing any of the following phantom noises is classified as tinnitus:

  • Ringing
  • Hissing
  • Roaring
  • Clicking
  • Buzzing.
If you’ve experienced phantom noises in your ears, consider consulting your general practitioner or a hearing specialist. But what does tinnitus even mean to someone experiencing phantom noises?

Understand the negative effects if left unchecked

Tinnitus is classified as the perception of sound when no external noise is present. Since in most cases only the patient can hear the noises, it becomes difficult to diagnose and treat.

Some patients with severe chronic tinnitus may experience insomnia, loss of appetite and even depression as a result of the condition. However, solutions do exist, especially considering recent discoveries into how tinnitus is more than just an ear issue; it’s often a brain issue.

Realize causes aren't always straightforward

Our brains help us interpret sound just as much as our ears do. This fact was highlighted in an article published in Discover Magazine in 2010. Journalist Carl Zimmer told about Winfried Schlee of the University of Konstanz in Germany who has been conducting groundbreaking research using a method called magnetoencephalography to monitor relevant brain activity.

Zimmer writes, “When Schlee compared people who suffer a lot of distress from tinnitus with those who are not much bothered by it, he found that the more distress people felt, the stronger the flow of signals out of the front and back of the brain and into the temporal cortex. This pattern suggests that the network Schlee discovered is important for the full experience of tinnitus. Tinnitus, in other words, extends beyond the ear, beyond a hearing-specialized part of the brain, beyond even any single piece of neural real estate. It is a disease of networks that span the brain.”

In other words, different treatments might help different people, so there’s not necessarily a straightforward solution. Note, however, that there are solutions.

Narrow down possible causes

Because tinnitus could be symptomatic of a different health issue, it’s important to rule out basic health problems. Visiting your general practitioner for a full physical exam can help you do this. Your doctor will ask you what medications you’re taking, as tinnitus can be a side effect of some medications as stated by the Mayo Clinic. Your doctor will also examine your body and especially your ears for signs of potential problems.

In some rare cases, pulsatile tinnitus occurs when both the doctor and patient can hear the noises caused by various vascular disorders. Ear issues causing tinnitus could include ear infection, earwax blockage, Meniere’s disease or even temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ).

Age-related hearing loss, loud noise exposures and ear bone changes can also contribute to tinnitus. In many cases, your doctor can rule out serious issues and refer you to an otologist (ear doctor) for further tests.

Take a hearing test

Taking a hearing test is a preliminary step in finding a solution to your tinnitus. You may not even have tinnitus, but some other auditory issue. Taking a free online hearing test can tell you more about what problems might exist including age-related hearing loss, which is a common cause of tinnitus. The more you know about your hearing, the better you can find a solution with the help of a professional audiologist.

Seek professional help

Once you’re aware of your symptoms and have ruled out serious health problems with your doctor, you can move toward a treatment. Treatments take many forms including general wellness, hearing aids, sound and behavioral therapies, medication and promising experimental therapies.

Whatever you and your providers decide, know that there are options and hope for undisturbed hearing. To find out more about hearing solutions, visit today.