Approximately 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 understand about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. As a result, tinnitus may indicate an underlying medical condition that, after treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other blockages, blood vessel disorders, specific medications, and other underlying disorders can all bring on tinnitus, so the starting point is ruling out any ailments that would require medical or surgical treatment.
In most instances of tinnitus, however, no specific cause is discovered. In these cases, tinnitus is assumed 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.
Whenever tinnitus is caused by nerve cell damage, or is connected with hearing loss, tinnitus often cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people need to suffer without help. 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 persists.
Here are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
The majority of cases of tinnitus are connected with some kind of hearing loss. In people with hearing loss, a smaller amount of sound stimulation reaches the brain, and in response, investigators believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the shortage of stimulation. It is this maladaptive reaction 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 recognizable. But when hearing aids are utilized, the amplified sound signals cause the sounds of tinnitus to blend into the richer background sounds. Hearing aids for tinnitus patients can then produce multiple benefits, among them better hearing, enhanced 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. Over time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as unimportant in comparison to the contending sound, thereby minimizing the intensity 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 connect 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 used may vary, 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, providing customized masking relief. Provided that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s critical that you work with a experienced 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, during which the individual learns to accept the ailment while establishing useful coping strategies.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which brings together cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, people learn to establish healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while making use of sound therapy to teach their brains to reclassify tinnitus as unimportant, so that it can be consciously ignored.
In addition to the more targeted sound and behavioral therapies, people can participate in general wellness activities that have a tendency to lessen the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, recreational activities, and any other activities that contribute to improved health and lowered stress.
There are presently no FDA-approved medications that have been shown 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 provide some relief to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being carried out in labs and universities throughout the world, as researchers continue to hunt for the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. While many 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. People suffering from tinnitus are encouraged to seek out established treatments rather than waiting for any experimental treatment to hit the market.
Here are a few of the experimental therapies currently being tested:
- Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) delivers electromagnetic pulses into the affected brain tissue to reduce the hyperactivity that is believed 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 positioning of electrodes in the brain tissue.
Other medical, surgical, and pharmacological therapies exist, but the outcomes have been mixed and the dangers of invasive procedures oftentimes outweigh the benefits.
The Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The ideal tinnitus treatment for you is based on many factors, and is best evaluated 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 personalized solution that works best for you.