About 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no external sound source is present. This phantom sound is frequently perceived as a ringing sound, but can also materialize as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
The first thing to know about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. Consequently, tinnitus may signify an underlying health condition that, after treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other blockages, blood vessel disorders, select medications, and other underlying disorders can all bring on tinnitus, so the first step is ruling out any ailments that would would need medical or surgical treatment.
In most cases of tinnitus, however, no specific cause can be revealed. In these instances, tinnitus is presumed to be caused by damage to the nerve cells of hearing in the inner ear. Noise-induced hearing loss, age-related hearing loss, and one-time exposure to very loud sounds can all cause tinnitus.
When tinnitus is caused by nerve cell damage, or is linked with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t imply that people must suffer without help. Although there is no conclusive cure for the majority of cases of chronic tinnitus, numerous tinnitus treatment options are available that help patients live better, more comfortable, and more productive lives, even if the perception of tinnitus persists.
Below are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
Most cases of tinnitus are linked with some type of hearing loss. In patients with hearing loss, less sound stimulation reaches the brain, and in response, experts believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the shortage of stimulation. It is this maladaptive response to sound deprivation that results in tinnitus.
Tinnitus is worsened with hearing loss because when ambient sound is muffled, the sounds associated with tinnitus become more detectable. But when hearing aids are worn, the amplified sound signals cause the sounds of tinnitus to blend into the richer background sounds. Hearing aids for tinnitus patients can then render several benefits, such as improved hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a wide-ranging phrase used to describe a number of methods to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. With time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as unimportant relative to the contending sound, thereby minimizing the intensity level of tinnitus.
Sound therapy can be delivered through masking devices but can also be provided through specific hearing aid models that can stream sound wirelessly by means of Bluetooth technology. Some hearing aid models even link up with compatible Apple products, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds set up on the Apple devices can be sent wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The kinds of masking sounds used may vary, including white noise, pink noise, nature sounds, and music. Sounds can also be specifically programmed to match the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, providing individualized masking relief. Considering that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s essential that you work with a certified hearing professional.
Several behavioral therapies exist to help the patient cope with the psychological and emotional elements of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, in which the individual learns to accept the condition while developing practical coping strategies.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which incorporates cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, people learn to establish healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while utilizing sound therapy to train their brains to reclassify tinnitus as insignificant, so that it can be deliberately ignored.
In combination with the more targeted sound and behavioral therapies, sufferers can engage in general wellness activities that tend to reduce the severity of tinnitus. These activities include healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, recreational activities, and any other activities that contribute to improved health and reduced stress.
There are presently no FDA-approved medications that have been demonstrated to cure or relieve tinnitus directly, but there are medications that can treat stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which can render tinnitus worse or are caused by tinnitus itself. In fact, some antidepressant and antianxiety medicines have been demonstrated to provide some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of promising research is being carried out in labs and universities throughout the world, as researchers continue to search for the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. While several of these experimental therapies have shown some promise, remember that they are not yet readily available, and that there’s no guarantee that they ever will be. Those suffering from tinnitus are encouraged to seek out current treatments rather than holding out for any experimental treatment to hit the market.
Here are a couple of the experimental therapies presently being tested:
- Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) delivers electromagnetic pulses into the affected brain tissue to lessen the hyperactivity that is thought to cause tinnitus.
- Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is another method of delivering electromagnetic pulses into the hyperactive brain tissue that is thought to cause tinnitus.
- Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is comparable to the above therapies in its use of electromagnetic energy, the difference being that DBS is an invasive procedure requiring surgery and the placement of electrodes in the brain tissue.
Other medical, surgical, and pharmacological therapies exist, but the results have been mixed and the risks of invasive procedures oftentimes overshadow the benefits.
The Optimal Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The best tinnitus treatment for you is based on many factors, and is best evaluated by a qualified hearing specialist. As your local hearing care professionals, we’ll do everything we can to help you find relief from your tinnitus. Set up your appointment today and we’ll find the personalized solution that works best for you.