About 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no external sound source is present. This phantom sound is often identified as a ringing sound, but can also manifest as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
The first thing to recognize about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. As such, tinnitus may signify an underlying medical condition that, after cured, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other blockages, blood vessel disorders, specific medications, and other underlying conditions can all trigger tinnitus, so the first step is ruling out any ailments that would require medical or surgical treatment.
In most cases of tinnitus, however, no specific cause can be found. In these cases, tinnitus is assumed to be caused by injury to the nerve cells of hearing in the inner ear. Age-related hearing loss, noise-induced hearing loss, and one-time exposure to very loud sounds can all cause tinnitus.
When tinnitus is induced by nerve cell damage, or is linked with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people must suffer without help. Although there is no conclusive cure for the majority of instances of chronic tinnitus, several 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 associated with some form of hearing loss. In people with hearing loss, a reduced amount of 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 surrounding sound is muffled, the sounds associated with tinnitus become more evident. 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 furnish multiple benefits, such as improved hearing, enhanced auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a general phrase used to identify a number of methods to making use of external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. In time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as unimportant in comparison to the contending sound, thereby reducing the intensity level of tinnitus.
Sound therapy can be delivered through masking devices but can also be delivered through certain hearing aid models that can stream sound wirelessly using Bluetooth technology. Some hearing aid models even connect with compatible Apple devices, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds set up on the Apple devices can be supplied wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The types of masking sounds utilized varies, including white noise, pink noise, nature sounds, and music. Sounds can also be specially designed to correspond to the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, providing customized masking relief. Seeing that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s crucial that you work with a knowledgeable hearing professional.
Several behavioral therapies exist to help the patient cope with the psychological and emotional components of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, whereby the individual learns to accept the ailment while developing useful coping strategies.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which synthesizes cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, patients learn to formulate healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while applying sound therapy to teach their brains to reclassify tinnitus as unimportant, so that it can be deliberately ignored.
In conjunction with the more targeted sound and behavioral therapies, patients can take part in general wellness activities that tend to lessen the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, regular exercise, social activity, leisure activities, and any other activities that foster improved health and reduced stress.
There are currently no FDA-approved medications that have been found to cure or alleviate tinnitus directly, but there are drugs 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 shown to produce some relief to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being carried out in labs and universities world wide, as researchers continue to search for the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. Even though several of these experimental therapies have shown some promise, remember that they are not yet readily available, and that there’s no certainty that they ever will be. Those suffering from tinnitus are encouraged to seek out current treatments rather than waiting 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 believed to cause tinnitus.
- Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is another means 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 placing of electrodes in the brain tissue.
Other medical, surgical, and pharmacological therapies exist, but the results have been mixed and the dangers of invasive procedures in many cases overshadow the benefits.
The Optimal Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The ideal tinnitus treatment for you is dependent on several factors, and is best assessed by a qualified hearing specialist. As your local hearing care experts, we’ll do everything we can to help you find relief from your tinnitus. Book your appointment today and we’ll find the customized solution that works best for you.