About 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no external 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 know about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. Consequently, tinnitus may indicate an underlying health condition that, when treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other obstructions, blood vessel conditions, select medications, and other underlying conditions can all cause tinnitus, so the starting point is ruling out any ailments that would demand 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.
Whenever tinnitus is induced by nerve cell damage, or is associated with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t imply that people need to suffer without help. While there is no conclusive cure for most instances of chronic tinnitus, several tinnitus therapy 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 patients with hearing loss, a smaller amount of sound stimulation reaches the brain, and in response, researchers believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the deficiency of stimulation. It is this maladaptive response 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 conspicuous. 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 present multiple benefits, including improved hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a broad term used to describe several techniques to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. With time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as trivial relative to the contending sound, thereby decreasing the intensity 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 by means of Bluetooth technology. Some hearing aid models even link up with compatible Apple devices, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds downloaded on the Apple devices can be transmitted 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 match the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, supplying personalized masking relief. Provided that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s vital that you work with a knowledgeable hearing professional.
Several behavioral therapies exist to help the patient deal with the psychological and emotional components of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, in which the patient learns to accept the affliction while developing useful coping methods.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which combines cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, patients learn to develop healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while using sound therapy to teach their brains to reclassify tinnitus as trivial, so that it can be consciously ignored.
Combined with the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, sufferers can participate in general wellness activities that frequently reduce the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, regular exercise, social activity, leisure activities, and any other activities that contribute to enhanced health and lowered stress.
There are at the present time no FDA-approved medications that have been found 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 supply some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of promising research is being performed in labs and universities across the globe, as researchers continue to search for the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. Although several 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 suffering from tinnitus are encouraged to seek out existing treatments rather than holding out for any experimental treatment to hit the market.
Here are a few of the experimental therapies presently 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 means of delivering electromagnetic pulses into the hyperactive brain tissue that is believed to cause tinnitus.
- Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is similar 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 dangers of invasive procedures quite often outweigh the benefits.
The Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimal tinnitus treatment for you is based on several factors, and is best determined 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.