Nearly 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no external sound source is present. This phantom sound is commonly identified as a ringing sound, but can also manifest as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
The first thing to know about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. As such, tinnitus may indicate an underlying health condition that, once treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other obstructions, blood vessel disorders, certain medications, and other underlying conditions can all bring about tinnitus, so the starting point 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 instances, tinnitus is presumed to be caused by destruction of 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.
When tinnitus is caused by nerve cell damage, or is associated with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people need to suffer without assistance. While there is no definitive 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 persists.
Below 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, experts believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the deficit 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 identified with tinnitus become more evident. 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 better hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a wide-ranging phrase used to identify several approaches to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. With time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as unimportant relative to the contending sound, thereby lessening 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 downloaded on the Apple devices can be delivered wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The kinds of masking sounds used can vary, 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 customized masking relief. Considering that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s vital that you work with a certified hearing professional.
Several behavioral therapies exist to help the patient contend 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 developing useful coping methods.
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 formulate healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while making use of sound therapy to train their brains to reclassify tinnitus as trivial, so that it can be consciously ignored.
In addition to the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, people can participate in general wellness activities that often lessen the severity of tinnitus. These activities include healthy diets, regular exercise, social activity, leisure activities, and any other activities that foster enhanced 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 medicines have been shown to produce some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being performed in labs and universities in many countries, 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. People suffering from tinnitus are encouraged to seek out current treatments rather than holding out for any experimental treatment to hit the market.
Here are a couple of the experimental therapies currently being evaluated:
- 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 comparable 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 risks of invasive procedures oftentimes outweigh the benefits.
The Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimum tinnitus treatment for you is based on many factors, and is best appraised 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.