Approximately 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no external sound source is present. This phantom sound is often identified as a ringing sound, but can also materialize 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 health condition that, after treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other obstructions, blood vessel disorders, specific medications, and other underlying conditions can all bring on tinnitus, so the starting point is ruling out any conditions that would call for medical or surgical treatment.
In most cases of tinnitus, however, no specific cause can be discovered. In these instances, tinnitus is assumed 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.
Whenever tinnitus is induced by nerve cell damage, or is connected with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people need to suffer without assistance. Although there is no definitive cure for most instances of chronic tinnitus, various tinnitus treatment options are available that help patients live better, more comfortable, and more productive lives, even if the perception of tinnitus remains.
Here are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
The majority of cases of tinnitus are linked 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 response to sound deprivation that results in tinnitus.
Tinnitus is intensified with hearing loss because when ambient sound is muffled, the sounds identified with tinnitus become more evident. 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 supply several benefits, such as enhanced hearing, enhanced auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a general term used to identify a number of methods to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. After a while, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as unimportant relative to the competing sound, thereby lessening the intensity 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 by means of 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 sent wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The types of masking sounds utilized varies, 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 personalized masking relief. Given that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s essential that you work with a experienced 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, in which the patient learns to accept the ailment while developing beneficial coping strategies.
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 formulate healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while making use of sound therapy to teach their brains to reclassify tinnitus as insignificant, so that it can be deliberately ignored.
Along with the more targeted sound and behavioral therapies, people can engage in general wellness activities that have been found to reduce the severity of tinnitus. These activities include healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, leisure activities, and any other activities that contribute to improved health and reduced stress.
There are at this time no FDA-approved medications that have been shown 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 medicines have been demonstrated to provide some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being performed in labs and universities throughout the world, as researchers continue to seek out the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. While 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 suffering from tinnitus are encouraged to seek out established treatments rather than waiting for any experimental treatment to hit the market.
Here are a few of the experimental therapies presently being evaluated:
- 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 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 in many cases outweigh the benefits.
The Optimal Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimum 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. Set up your appointment today and we’ll find the customized solution that works best for you.