Nearly 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no external sound source exists. This phantom sound is frequently identified as a ringing sound, but can also manifest as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
First it is important to know about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. Consequently, tinnitus may indicate an underlying medical condition that, when cured, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other obstructions, blood vessel disorders, selected medications, and other underlying conditions 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 discovered. In these cases, tinnitus is presumed to be caused by injury to 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 associated with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t imply that people must suffer without assistance. While there is no definitive cure for the majority of 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 remains.
Below are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
Most cases of tinnitus are connected with some kind of hearing loss. In people with hearing loss, a smaller amount of sound stimulation reaches the brain, and in response, experts believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the insufficiency of stimulation. It is this maladaptive reaction 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 recognizable. 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 provide several benefits, including enhanced 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. With time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as trivial in comparison to the competing sound, thereby lessening the intensity level 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 devices, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds installed on the Apple devices can be transmitted 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 designed to correspond to the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, supplying personalized masking relief. Given that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s essential that you work with a qualified hearing professional.
Numerous behavioral therapies exist to help the patient address the psychological and emotional elements of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, whereby the patient learns to accept the ailment while developing beneficial coping methods.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which synthesizes 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 unimportant, so that it can be deliberately ignored.
Together with the more targeted sound and behavioral therapies, sufferers can engage in general wellness activities that have been found to reduce the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, recreational activities, and any other activities that foster improved health and lowered stress.
There are currently no FDA-approved medications that have been shown to cure or alleviate tinnitus directly, but there are drugs 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 supply some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of promising research is being carried out in labs and universities around the globe, as researchers continue to search for the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. While many of these experimental therapies have shown some promise, remember 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 currently being evaluated:
- Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) delivers electromagnetic pulses into the affected brain tissue to reduce the hyperactivity that is thought to cause tinnitus.
- Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is another means of delivering electromagnetic pulses into the hyperactive brain tissue that is thought 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 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 oftentimes outweigh the benefits.
The Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimal tinnitus treatment for you is based on several factors, and is best assessed 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. Schedule your appointment today and we’ll find the customized solution that works best for you.