Approximately 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no outside sound source exists. This phantom sound is often perceived as a ringing sound, but can also materialize as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
First it is important to understand about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. As such, tinnitus may indicate an underlying health condition that, once cured, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other obstructions, blood vessel disorders, select medications, and other underlying conditions can all cause tinnitus, so the first step is ruling out any ailments that would call for medical or surgical treatment.
In most cases of tinnitus, however, no specific cause is revealed. In these instances, tinnitus is assumed to be caused by injury to 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 linked with hearing loss, tinnitus often cannot be cured—but that doesn’t imply that people need to suffer without help. Although there is no conclusive cure for most instances of chronic tinnitus, various tinnitus therapy options are available that help patients live better, more comfortable, and more productive lives, even if the perception of tinnitus persists.
The following are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
The majority of cases of tinnitus are connected 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 lack of stimulation. It is this maladaptive reaction 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 apparent. 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 produce multiple benefits, among them enhanced hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a wide-ranging phrase used to describe several methods to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. After some time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as insignificant relative to the contending sound, thereby minimizing the intensity of tinnitus.
Sound therapy can be delivered through masking devices but can also be delivered through selected hearing aid models that can stream sound wirelessly by using Bluetooth technology. Some hearing aid models even link up with compatible Apple devices, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds downloaded on the Apple devices can be sent wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The types of masking sounds used can vary, including white noise, pink noise, nature sounds, and music. Sounds can also be specially programmed to correspond to the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, delivering individualized masking relief. Considering that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s crucial that you work with a qualified 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, whereby the individual learns to accept the ailment while developing useful coping methods.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which brings together cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, people learn to develop healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while using sound therapy to train their brains to reclassify tinnitus as insignificant, so that it can be deliberately ignored.
In addition to the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, sufferers can engage in general wellness activities that frequently reduce the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, regular exercise, social activity, recreational activities, and any other activities that foster enhanced health and lowered stress.
There are currently no FDA-approved medications that have been shown to cure or alleviate tinnitus directly, but there are medications 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 supply some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being conducted in labs and universities across the globe, as researchers continue to hunt 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 assurance that they ever will be. Those struggling with tinnitus are encouraged to seek out existing treatments rather than holding out for any experimental treatment to hit the market.
Here are a few 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 thought 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 positioning 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 Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The best tinnitus treatment for you is based on several factors, and is best appraised by a qualified hearing specialist. As your local hearing care experts, we’ll do everything we can to help you find relief from your tinnitus. Schedule your appointment today and we’ll find the personalized solution that works best for you.