Approximately 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no outside sound source exists. This phantom sound is generally perceived as a ringing sound, but can also manifest as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
First it is important to recognize about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. As a result, tinnitus may indicate an underlying health condition that, when cured, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other obstructions, blood vessel conditions, specific medications, and other underlying disorders can all trigger tinnitus, so the starting point is ruling out any conditions that would demand medical or surgical treatment.
In most instances of tinnitus, however, no specific cause is revealed. In these instances, tinnitus is assumed 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.
Whenever tinnitus is induced by nerve cell damage, or is linked with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people have to suffer without help. While there is no conclusive 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 continues.
Below 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, experts believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the insufficiency of stimulation. It is this maladaptive response to sound deprivation that results in tinnitus.
Tinnitus is worsened with hearing loss because when surrounding sound is muffled, the sounds associated with tinnitus become more notable. 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 offer multiple benefits, among them improved hearing, enhanced auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a broad phrase used to describe a number of methods to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. Over time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as unimportant in comparison to the contending sound, thereby minimizing 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 using Bluetooth technology. Some hearing aid models even connect with compatible Apple products, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds downloaded on the Apple devices can be sent 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 correspond to the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, delivering individualized masking relief. Given that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s vital that you work with a knowledgeable hearing professional.
Numerous behavioral therapies exist to help the patient deal with the psychological and emotional components of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, in which the patient learns to accept the affliction while developing beneficial coping techniques.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which integrates 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 insignificant, so that it can be consciously 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 consist of healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, leisure activities, and any other activities that contribute to improved health and reduced stress.
There are currently no FDA-approved medications that have been found 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 shown to furnish some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being carried out in labs and universities in many countries, as researchers continue to seek out the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. Even though 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 existing treatments rather than waiting 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 reduce the hyperactivity that is believed 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 above 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 oftentimes outweigh the benefits.
The Optimal Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimum tinnitus treatment for you is based on several factors, and is best determined 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.