About 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 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, once cured, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other blockages, blood vessel conditions, select medications, and other underlying conditions can all bring on tinnitus, so the starting point is ruling out any ailments that would require 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 damage 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 assistance. While there is no definitive cure for most instances 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 persists.
Here are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
Most cases of tinnitus are associated with some type of hearing loss. In patients with hearing loss, less sound stimulation reaches the brain, and in response, experts believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the deficiency 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 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 grant multiple benefits, including better hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a wide-ranging phrase used to identify several approaches to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. After a while, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as trivial in comparison to the competing sound, thereby minimizing 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 link up with compatible Apple products, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds downloaded on the Apple devices can be transmitted wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The kinds of masking sounds used varies, including white noise, pink noise, nature sounds, and music. Sounds can also be specially programmed to match the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, supplying personalized masking relief. Since 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 manage 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 practical coping strategies.
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 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 consciously ignored.
Coupled with the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, people can take part in general wellness activities that often reduce the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, recreational activities, and any other activities that promote enhanced health and reduced stress.
There are presently no FDA-approved medications that have been demonstrated 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 shown to deliver 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. Even though several 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 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 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 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 risks of invasive procedures oftentimes overshadow the benefits.
The Optimal Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The best tinnitus treatment for you is based on several factors, and is best evaluated 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. Book your appointment today and we’ll find the customized solution that works best for you.