About 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no outside sound source exists. This phantom sound is commonly identified as a ringing sound, but can also materialize as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
The first thing to recognize about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. Consequently, tinnitus may indicate an underlying medical condition that, when cured, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other obstructions, blood vessel conditions, select medications, and other underlying disorders can all cause tinnitus, so the starting point is ruling out any conditions that would require medical or surgical treatment.
In most instances of tinnitus, however, no specific cause is found. In these cases, 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 connected with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t imply that people have to suffer without assistance. While there is no conclusive cure for the majority of instances of chronic tinnitus, several tinnitus treatment options are available that help patients live better, more comfortable, and more productive lives, even if the perception of tinnitus remains.
The following are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
Most 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, 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 associated with tinnitus become more evident. 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 render multiple benefits, such as enhanced hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a general term used to describe 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 trivial relative to the contending 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 using Bluetooth technology. Some hearing aid models even connect with compatible Apple products, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds set up on the Apple devices can be supplied wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The kinds of masking sounds used can vary, 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. Provided that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s imperative that you work with a knowledgeable hearing professional.
Several behavioral therapies exist to help the patient contend 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 techniques.
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, patients learn to establish healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while utilizing sound therapy to teach their brains to reclassify tinnitus as unimportant, so that it can be consciously ignored.
In combination with the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, patients can participate in general wellness activities that tend to lessen the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, regular exercise, social activity, leisure 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 relieve tinnitus directly, but there are drugs 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 relief to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being carried out in labs and universities internationally, as researchers continue to hunt for 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. Those struggling with 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 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 comparable to the previous 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 outcomes have been mixed and the dangers of invasive procedures oftentimes overshadow the benefits.
The Optimal Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimum tinnitus treatment for you is dependent on several factors, and is best appraised 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.