Nearly 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no outside sound source exists. This phantom sound is normally identified as a ringing sound, but can also manifest 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. As such, tinnitus may signify an underlying health condition that, once treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other blockages, blood vessel disorders, select medications, and other underlying conditions can all bring about tinnitus, so the first step is ruling out any conditions that would demand medical or surgical treatment.
In most instances of tinnitus, however, no specific cause can be discovered. In these instances, tinnitus is assumed 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 linked with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people must suffer without assistance. While there is no conclusive cure for most cases of chronic tinnitus, several tinnitus treatment 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 associated with some kind of hearing loss. In patients with hearing loss, a smaller amount of sound stimulation reaches the brain, and in response, experts believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the shortage 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 used, the amplified sound signals cause the sounds of tinnitus to blend into the richer background sounds. Hearing aids for tinnitus patients can then supply several benefits, among them improved hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a general term used to identify several techniques to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. In time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as insignificant relative to the contending sound, thereby reducing the intensity level of tinnitus.
Sound therapy can be delivered through masking devices but can also be delivered through specific hearing aid models that can stream sound wirelessly by using 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 kinds of masking sounds used may vary, including white noise, pink noise, nature sounds, and music. Sounds can also be specially programmed to correspond to the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, delivering personalized masking relief. Given that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s critical that you work with a knowledgeable hearing professional.
Several behavioral therapies exist to help the patient address the psychological and emotional elements of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, during which the patient learns to accept the ailment while establishing useful coping techniques.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which merges cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, people learn to develop healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while utilizing sound therapy to train their brains to reclassify tinnitus as unimportant, so that it can be consciously ignored.
Coupled with the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, sufferers can take part in general wellness activities that tend to lessen the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, recreational activities, and any other activities that promote enhanced health and reduced stress.
There are presently no FDA-approved medications that have been found to cure or relieve tinnitus directly, but there are medications 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 medicines have been demonstrated to produce some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of promising research is being conducted in labs and universities around the globe, as researchers continue to seek out the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. While several of these experimental therapies have shown some promise, keep in mind that they are not yet readily available, and that there’s no certainty that they ever will be. Those 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 presently being tested:
- 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 means of delivering electromagnetic pulses into the hyperactive brain tissue that is thought to cause tinnitus.
- Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is comparable to the previous 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 risks of invasive procedures quite often overshadow the benefits.
The Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The best 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 customized solution that works best for you.