About 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no external sound source is present. This phantom sound is generally identified as a ringing sound, but can also materialize as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
The first thing to understand about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. As such, tinnitus may indicate an underlying health condition that, when treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other obstructions, blood vessel conditions, specific medications, and other underlying disorders can all trigger 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 is found. In these cases, tinnitus is assumed 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.
Whenever tinnitus is caused by nerve cell damage, or is associated with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people must suffer without help. Although there is no conclusive 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 connected with some form of hearing loss. In people with hearing loss, a smaller amount of sound stimulation reaches the brain, and in response, investigators believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the lack of stimulation. It is this maladaptive reaction to sound deprivation that results in tinnitus.
Tinnitus is aggravated with hearing loss because when surrounding sound is muffled, the sounds identified with tinnitus become more conspicuous. But when hearing aids are worn, 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, including enhanced hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a broad term used to describe several techniques to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. After some time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as trivial in comparison to the contending sound, thereby decreasing the intensity level 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 by using Bluetooth technology. Some hearing aid models even connect 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 types of masking sounds utilized may differ, including white noise, pink noise, nature sounds, and music. Sounds can also be specifically programmed to correspond to the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, delivering personalized masking relief. Since each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s crucial that you work with a knowledgeable hearing professional.
Numerous behavioral therapies exist to help the patient deal with the psychological and emotional elements of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, in which the patient learns to accept the affliction while developing helpful coping methods.
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 develop healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while applying sound therapy to train their brains to reclassify tinnitus as insignificant, so that it can be deliberately ignored.
Together with the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, patients can take part 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 foster enhanced health and lowered stress.
There are at present no FDA-approved medications that have been demonstrated to cure or relieve tinnitus directly, but there are drugs 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 supply 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 search for the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. Even though several of these experimental therapies have shown some promise, keep in mind that they are not yet readily available, and that there’s no guarantee that they ever will be. People struggling with 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 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 similar to the preceding 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 quite often outweigh the benefits.
The Optimal Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimal tinnitus treatment for you is based on several 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.