Roughly 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no external sound source exists. This phantom sound is commonly identified as a ringing sound, but can also materialize as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
First it is important to recognize about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. Consequently, tinnitus may signify an underlying health condition that, once cured, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other blockages, blood vessel conditions, specified medications, and other underlying disorders can all trigger tinnitus, so the first step is ruling out any conditions that would call for 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. Noise-induced hearing loss, age-related hearing loss, and one-time exposure to very loud sounds can all cause tinnitus.
When tinnitus is caused by nerve cell damage, or is linked with hearing loss, tinnitus often cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people must suffer without help. While there is no definitive 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 remains.
Here are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
Most cases of tinnitus are linked with some form of hearing loss. In patients with hearing loss, a reduced 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 surrounding sound is muffled, the sounds identified with tinnitus become more detectable. 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 deliver several benefits, among them enhanced hearing, enhanced auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a broad phrase used to describe several approaches to making use of external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. Over time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as trivial 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 specific hearing aid models that can stream sound wirelessly by using Bluetooth technology. Some hearing aid models even link up with compatible Apple devices, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds set up on the Apple devices can be supplied wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The kinds of masking sounds used 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, providing personalized masking relief. Given that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s critical that you work with a experienced hearing professional.
Numerous behavioral therapies exist to help the patient cope with the psychological and emotional elements of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, in which the individual learns to accept the ailment while establishing useful coping methods.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which incorporates 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 insignificant, so that it can be consciously ignored.
Coupled with the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, patients can participate in general wellness activities that have been found to reduce the severity of tinnitus. These activities include healthy diets, regular exercise, social activity, leisure activities, and any other activities that contribute to improved health and reduced stress.
There are currently 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 medicines have been shown to furnish some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being conducted in labs and universities across the globe, 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, remember that they are not yet readily available, and that there’s no assurance that they ever will be. Those suffering from 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 currently being tested:
- Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) delivers electromagnetic pulses into the affected brain tissue to lessen 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 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 outcomes have been mixed and the dangers of invasive procedures quite often overshadow the benefits.
The Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimum 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 personalized solution that works best for you.