Approximately 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no outside sound source exists. This phantom sound is frequently 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 a result, tinnitus may signal an underlying medical condition that, when treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other obstructions, blood vessel disorders, select medications, and other underlying conditions can all bring on tinnitus, so the first step is ruling out any conditions that would call for 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 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.
When tinnitus is induced by nerve cell damage, or is connected with hearing loss, tinnitus often cannot be cured—but that doesn’t imply that people have to suffer without assistance. While there is no conclusive cure for the majority of cases 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 remains.
Below are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
Most cases of tinnitus are associated 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 shortage 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 associated with tinnitus become more evident. 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 present several benefits, including improved hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a general term used to describe a number of approaches to making use of external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. In time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as unimportant 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 devices, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds downloaded on the Apple devices can be supplied wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The kinds of masking sounds used may differ, 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 personalized masking relief. Seeing that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s imperative 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, in which the patient learns to accept the ailment while establishing effective 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, people learn to formulate healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while utilizing sound therapy to teach their brains to reclassify tinnitus as trivial, so that it can be deliberately ignored.
In addition to the more targeted sound and behavioral therapies, sufferers can participate in general wellness activities that frequently lessen the severity of tinnitus. These activities include healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, recreational activities, and any other activities that promote improved health and reduced stress.
There are at present 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 medications have been shown to deliver some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being carried out in labs and universities globally, 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, remember that they are not yet readily available, and that there’s no certainty 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 few 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 comparable 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 dangers of invasive procedures oftentimes outweigh the benefits.
The Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimal tinnitus treatment for you is based 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 personalized solution that works best for you.