About 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no outside sound source exists. This phantom sound is typically identified as a ringing sound, but can also manifest as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
First it is important to know about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. Consequently, tinnitus may signal an underlying medical condition that, when treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other blockages, blood vessel conditions, certain medications, and other underlying disorders can all bring about tinnitus, so the first step is ruling out any conditions that would would need medical or surgical treatment.
In most instances of tinnitus, however, no specific cause can be discovered. 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 caused by nerve cell damage, or is connected with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t imply that people need to suffer without assistance. While there is no conclusive cure for most instances of chronic tinnitus, various tinnitus treatment options are available that help patients live better, more comfortable, and more productive lives, even if the perception of tinnitus remains.
Below are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
The majority of cases of tinnitus are connected with some form of hearing loss. In people 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 deficiency of stimulation. It is this maladaptive reaction 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 recognizable. 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 provide multiple 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 techniques to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. After a while, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as insignificant relative to the competing sound, thereby lessening the intensity level 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 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 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 specifically designed to match the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, supplying personalized masking relief. Since each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s essential that you work with a qualified 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, whereby the individual learns to accept the ailment while establishing effective coping methods.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which integrates cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, patients learn to establish healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while using sound therapy to train their brains to reclassify tinnitus as unimportant, so that it can be deliberately ignored.
Combined with the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, people can take part in general wellness activities that have a tendency to reduce the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, regular exercise, social activity, recreational activities, and any other activities that foster improved health and lowered stress.
There are at present no FDA-approved medications that have been shown to cure or relieve tinnitus directly, but there are drugs 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 deliver some relief to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of promising research is being carried out in labs and universities across the world, as researchers continue to search for the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. Although many of these experimental therapies have shown some promise, keep in mind that they are not yet readily available, and that there’s no guarantee that they ever will be. Those struggling with 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 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 placement 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 quite often 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 certified hearing specialist. As your local hearing care professionals, we’ll do everything we can to help you find relief from your tinnitus. Book your appointment today and we’ll find the personalized solution that works best for you.