Nearly 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no external 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.
First it is important to understand about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. Consequently, tinnitus may signal an underlying medical condition that, if treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other obstructions, blood vessel disorders, certain medications, and other underlying disorders can all cause tinnitus, so the first step is ruling out any ailments that would would need medical or surgical treatment.
In most cases of tinnitus, however, no specific cause is discovered. In these cases, tinnitus is presumed to be caused by damage 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 connected with hearing loss, tinnitus often cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people have to suffer without help. While there is no definitive cure for most cases 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.
The following are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
Most cases of tinnitus are linked with some form of hearing loss. In people with hearing loss, a reduced 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 aggravated with hearing loss because when surrounding 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 offer several benefits, among them improved hearing, enhanced auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a broad term used to identify a number of methods to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. After some time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as unimportant in comparison to the contending sound, thereby suppressing the intensity level 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 link up with compatible Apple devices, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds downloaded on the Apple devices can be delivered wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The kinds of masking sounds utilized varies, 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 individualized masking relief. Seeing that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s essential that you work with a knowledgeable hearing professional.
Numerous behavioral therapies exist to help the patient manage the psychological and emotional elements of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, in which the patient learns to accept the affliction while establishing practical coping methods.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which mixes cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, people learn to formulate healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while making use of sound therapy to teach their brains to reclassify tinnitus as insignificant, so that it can be deliberately ignored.
Together with the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, people can engage in general wellness activities that have a tendency to lessen the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, leisure activities, and any other activities that contribute to improved health and reduced 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 medications have been demonstrated to supply some relief to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of promising research is being conducted in labs and universities around 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, remember that they are not yet readily available, and that there’s no certainty 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 few of the experimental therapies presently being evaluated:
- Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) delivers electromagnetic pulses into the affected brain tissue to reduce the hyperactivity that is thought to cause tinnitus.
- Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is another method of delivering electromagnetic pulses into the hyperactive brain tissue that is believed to cause tinnitus.
- Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is similar to the previous 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 oftentimes outweigh the benefits.
The Optimal Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The best tinnitus treatment for you is based on several factors, and is best evaluated by a certified 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 customized solution that works best for you.