About 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no outside sound source exists. This phantom sound is generally identified 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. Consequently, tinnitus may signal an underlying health condition that, if treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other obstructions, blood vessel disorders, specific medications, and other underlying conditions can all cause tinnitus, so the starting point is ruling out any conditions that would call for medical or surgical treatment.
In most instances of tinnitus, however, no specific cause is found. In these cases, tinnitus is presumed 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 connected with hearing loss, tinnitus often cannot be cured—but that doesn’t imply that people have to suffer without help. Although there is no definitive 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.
Here are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
The majority of cases of tinnitus are connected with some kind 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 deficiency 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 associated with tinnitus become more perceptible. 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 provide several benefits, including improved hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a broad term used to identify several methods to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. In time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as trivial in comparison to the competing sound, thereby reducing the intensity level 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 using 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 supplied wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The types of masking sounds used differs, including white noise, pink noise, nature sounds, and music. Sounds can also be specifically programmed 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 knowledgeable hearing professional.
Numerous behavioral therapies exist to help the patient cope with the psychological and emotional components of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, during which the patient learns to accept the affliction while establishing beneficial coping methods.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which mixes cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, patients learn to develop healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while applying sound therapy to train their brains to reclassify tinnitus as trivial, so that it can be consciously ignored.
Together with the more targeted sound and behavioral therapies, sufferers can engage in general wellness activities that frequently lessen the severity of tinnitus. These activities include healthy diets, regular exercise, social activity, recreational activities, and any other activities that contribute to improved health and lowered stress.
There are at present 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 medicines have been demonstrated to deliver some relief to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of promising research is being performed in labs and universities around the globe, as researchers continue to seek out the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. Although several of these experimental therapies have shown some promise, keep in mind that they are not yet readily available, and that there’s no certainty that they ever will be. Those suffering from tinnitus are encouraged to seek out current treatments rather than waiting for any experimental treatment to hit the market.
Here are a couple 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 similar to the previous 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 oftentimes overshadow the benefits.
The Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The best tinnitus treatment for you is based on several 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. Set up your appointment today and we’ll find the personalized solution that works best for you.