Roughly 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no outside sound source exists. This phantom sound is normally perceived as a ringing sound, but can also materialize 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 indicate an underlying health condition that, once cured, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other blockages, blood vessel conditions, select medications, and other underlying conditions can all bring about tinnitus, so the first step is ruling out any conditions that would call for medical or surgical treatment.
In most instances of tinnitus, however, no specific cause is revealed. In these instances, 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 caused by nerve cell damage, or is connected with hearing loss, tinnitus often cannot be cured—but that doesn’t imply that people have to suffer without help. Although there is no conclusive cure for most cases 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 continues.
The following are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
Most cases of tinnitus are linked with some kind of hearing loss. In patients with hearing loss, a reduced amount of sound stimulation reaches the brain, and in response, researchers believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the lack of stimulation. It is this maladaptive reaction to sound deprivation that results in tinnitus.
Tinnitus is intensified with hearing loss because when ambient sound is muffled, the sounds identified with tinnitus become more detectable. But when hearing aids are used, the amplified sound signals cause the sounds of tinnitus to blend into the richer background sounds. Hearing aids for tinnitus patients can then produce several benefits, such as enhanced hearing, enhanced auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a general phrase used to identify several techniques to making use of external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. With time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as unimportant in comparison to the contending sound, thereby decreasing the intensity of tinnitus.
Sound therapy can be delivered through masking devices but can also be delivered 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 installed on the Apple devices can be sent wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The types of masking sounds utilized may differ, 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 as each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s important that you work with a knowledgeable hearing professional.
Numerous behavioral therapies exist to help the patient overcome the psychological and emotional components of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, in which the patient learns to accept the affliction while establishing effective 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, people learn to formulate healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while using sound therapy to train their brains to reclassify tinnitus as insignificant, so that it can be deliberately ignored.
Along with the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, people can engage in general wellness activities that have been found to reduce the severity of tinnitus. These activities include healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, leisure activities, and any other activities that promote enhanced 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 make tinnitus worse or are caused by tinnitus itself. In fact, some antidepressant and antianxiety medications have been shown to supply some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being conducted in labs and universities in many countries, as researchers continue to seek out 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 certainty that they ever will be. Those suffering from tinnitus are encouraged to seek out established treatments rather than waiting for any experimental treatment to hit the market.
Here are a couple of the experimental therapies presently being evaluated:
- 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 preceding 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 in many cases outweigh the benefits.
The Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimal tinnitus treatment for you is based on many 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. Schedule your appointment today and we’ll find the personalized solution that works best for you.