About 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no external sound source exists. 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 signal an underlying medical condition that, once cured, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other blockages, blood vessel conditions, selected medications, and other underlying disorders can all cause tinnitus, so the first step is ruling out any conditions that would would need medical or surgical treatment.
In most cases of tinnitus, however, no specific cause can be found. In these instances, 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 induced by nerve cell damage, or is connected with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people have to suffer without assistance. Although there is no definitive cure for most instances of chronic tinnitus, numerous tinnitus therapy options are available that help patients live better, more comfortable, and more productive lives, even if the perception of tinnitus continues.
Here are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
The majority of cases of tinnitus are associated with some kind of hearing loss. In patients with hearing loss, a reduced amount of sound stimulation reaches the brain, and in response, researchers believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the deficiency of stimulation. It is this maladaptive response 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 recognizable. 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 provide multiple benefits, among them enhanced hearing, enhanced auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a broad term used to identify several techniques to making use of external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. Over time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as insignificant relative to the contending sound, thereby suppressing 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 using Bluetooth technology. Some hearing aid models even connect with compatible Apple products, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds set up on the Apple devices can be delivered wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The kinds of masking sounds used varies, 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. Seeing that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s critical that you work with a knowledgeable hearing professional.
Numerous 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 practical coping methods.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which incorporates 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 teach their brains to reclassify tinnitus as insignificant, so that it can be consciously ignored.
In addition to the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, patients 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 contribute to enhanced health and reduced stress.
There are at this time no FDA-approved medications that have been demonstrated 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 medications have been demonstrated to produce some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being performed in labs and universities globally, as researchers continue to hunt for the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. While many 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 established treatments rather than waiting for any experimental treatment to hit the market.
Here are a couple of the experimental therapies currently being tested:
- Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) delivers electromagnetic pulses into the affected brain tissue to lessen the hyperactivity that is thought 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 outcomes have been mixed and the risks of invasive procedures quite often overshadow the benefits.
The Optimal Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimal tinnitus treatment for you is based on several factors, and is best determined 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 personalized solution that works best for you.