Nearly 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no outside sound source exists. This phantom sound is often identified as a ringing sound, but can also materialize as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
The first thing to recognize about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. Consequently, tinnitus may indicate an underlying health condition that, once treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other blockages, blood vessel conditions, certain medications, and other underlying conditions can all trigger tinnitus, so the first step is ruling out any ailments that would demand medical or surgical treatment.
In most cases of tinnitus, however, no specific cause is revealed. In these cases, tinnitus is presumed to be caused by destruction of 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 associated with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t imply that people have to suffer without assistance. While there is no definitive cure for the majority of 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.
Below are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
The majority of cases of tinnitus are associated with some form of hearing loss. In patients 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 deficit 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 present multiple benefits, including improved hearing, enhanced auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a broad term used to identify several techniques to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. With time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as trivial relative to the contending sound, thereby reducing the intensity level of tinnitus.
Sound therapy can be delivered through masking devices but can also be provided through selected 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 used can vary, including white noise, pink noise, nature sounds, and music. Sounds can also be specifically programmed to match the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, delivering individualized masking relief. Seeing as each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s important that you work with a knowledgeable hearing professional.
Numerous behavioral therapies exist to help the patient address the psychological and emotional components of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, during which the individual learns to accept the ailment while establishing effective 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, patients learn to establish healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while applying sound therapy to teach their brains to reclassify tinnitus as unimportant, so that it can be consciously ignored.
In addition to the more targeted sound and behavioral therapies, sufferers can engage in general wellness activities that often lessen the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, recreational activities, and any other activities that promote improved health and lowered stress.
There are currently no FDA-approved medications that have been found to cure or alleviate 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 relief to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of promising research is being conducted in labs and universities throughout the world, as researchers continue to seek out the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. Even though several 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 holding out 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 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 believed 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 dangers of invasive procedures in many cases outweigh the benefits.
The Optimal Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimum tinnitus treatment for you is based on many factors, and is best evaluated by a qualified hearing specialist. As your local hearing care professionals, we’ll do everything we can to help you find relief from your tinnitus. Set up your appointment today and we’ll find the customized solution that works best for you.