About 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no outside sound source exists. This phantom sound is often perceived as a ringing sound, but can also manifest as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
First it is important to understand about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. As a result, tinnitus may signal an underlying medical condition that, when treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other obstructions, blood vessel conditions, certain medications, and other underlying disorders can all cause tinnitus, so the starting point is ruling out any conditions that would would need medical or surgical treatment.
In most instances of tinnitus, however, no specific cause can be found. In these instances, tinnitus is presumed to be caused by destruction of 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 induced by nerve cell damage, or is connected with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people must suffer without help. Although there is no definitive cure for the majority of 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 remains.
Here are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
The majority of cases of tinnitus are associated with some type of hearing loss. In patients with hearing loss, a lesser amount of sound stimulation reaches the brain, and in response, experts 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 aggravated 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 create several benefits, such as enhanced hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a general phrase used to identify a number of techniques 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 of tinnitus.
Sound therapy can be delivered through masking devices but can also be provided through certain hearing aid models that can stream sound wirelessly using Bluetooth technology. Some hearing aid models even link up with compatible Apple devices, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds installed on the Apple devices can be supplied wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The kinds of masking sounds utilized may differ, including white noise, pink noise, nature sounds, and music. Sounds can also be specially programmed to match the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, delivering customized masking relief. Given that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s essential that you work with a certified hearing professional.
Numerous behavioral therapies exist to help the patient deal with the psychological and emotional elements of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, in which the individual learns to accept the affliction while developing helpful coping techniques.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which blends cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, patients learn to develop healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while making use of sound therapy to train their brains to reclassify tinnitus as unimportant, so that it can be consciously ignored.
Along with the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, people can engage in general wellness activities that frequently reduce the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, leisure activities, and any other activities that foster improved health and lowered stress.
There are at present 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 demonstrated to supply some relief to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being carried out in labs and universities around the globe, as researchers continue to seek out the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. Even though several of these experimental therapies have shown some promise, keep in mind that they are not yet readily available, and that there’s no assurance that they ever will be. Those struggling with tinnitus are encouraged to seek out established treatments rather than holding out 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 thought to cause tinnitus.
- Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is another means of delivering electromagnetic pulses into the hyperactive brain tissue that is believed to cause tinnitus.
- Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is similar to the above therapies in its use of electromagnetic energy, the difference being that DBS is an invasive procedure requiring surgery and the positioning 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 outweigh the benefits.
The Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimum tinnitus treatment for you is dependent on several factors, and is best appraised 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. Schedule your appointment today and we’ll find the personalized solution that works best for you.