Roughly 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no external sound source exists. This phantom sound is generally perceived as a ringing sound, but can also manifest as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
The first thing to recognize about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. As a result, tinnitus may signify an underlying medical condition that, after treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other blockages, blood vessel conditions, specified medications, and other underlying conditions can all cause tinnitus, so the first step is ruling out any ailments that would require medical or surgical treatment.
In most instances of tinnitus, however, no specific cause can be revealed. 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 associated with hearing loss, tinnitus often cannot be cured—but that doesn’t imply that people need to suffer without help. Although there is no definitive cure for most instances of chronic tinnitus, numerous tinnitus treatment options are available that help patients live better, more comfortable, and more productive lives, even if the perception of tinnitus persists.
Here 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 smaller amount of sound stimulation reaches the brain, and in response, researchers believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the lack of stimulation. It is this maladaptive response to sound deprivation that results in tinnitus.
Tinnitus is aggravated with hearing loss because when ambient sound is muffled, the sounds associated with tinnitus become more notable. 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 grant multiple benefits, among them better hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a general phrase used to identify a number of techniques to making use of external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. In 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 provided through certain hearing aid models that can stream sound wirelessly 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 can vary, including white noise, pink noise, nature sounds, and music. Sounds can also be specifically designed to correspond to the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, delivering personalized masking relief. Provided that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s vital that you work with a experienced 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, whereby the individual learns to accept the condition while developing practical coping strategies.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which blends cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, patients learn to establish healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while making use of sound therapy to train their brains to reclassify tinnitus as insignificant, so that it can be consciously ignored.
In combination with the more targeted sound and behavioral therapies, sufferers can participate in general wellness activities that tend to lessen the severity of tinnitus. These activities include healthy diets, regular exercise, social activity, leisure activities, and any other activities that contribute to enhanced health and reduced stress.
There are at this time 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 make tinnitus worse or are caused by tinnitus itself. In fact, some antidepressant and antianxiety medicines have been demonstrated to provide some relief to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of promising research is being carried out in labs and universities world wide, as researchers continue to hunt 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 assurance that they ever will be. People suffering from tinnitus are encouraged to seek out existing treatments rather than waiting 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 reduce 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 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 placing 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 in many cases outweigh the benefits.
The Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The best tinnitus treatment for you is dependent on many factors, and is best assessed 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.