Roughly 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no outside sound source exists. This phantom sound is frequently perceived as a ringing sound, but can also materialize as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
First it is important to recognize about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. As a result, tinnitus may signify an underlying medical condition that, when cured, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other blockages, blood vessel disorders, certain medications, and other underlying disorders can all trigger tinnitus, so the starting point is ruling out any ailments that would require medical or surgical treatment.
In most cases of tinnitus, however, no specific cause can be discovered. In these cases, 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 induced by nerve cell damage, or is connected with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people must suffer without assistance. Although there is no definitive cure for most 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 remains.
Here are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
The majority of cases of tinnitus are linked with some form of hearing loss. In people with hearing loss, a reduced amount of sound stimulation reaches the brain, and in response, researchers 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 aggravated with hearing loss because when ambient sound is muffled, the sounds associated with tinnitus become more notable. 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 deliver several benefits, including enhanced hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a general phrase used to identify a number of techniques to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. With time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as unimportant 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 certain hearing aid models that can stream sound wirelessly using 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 transmitted wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The kinds of masking sounds utilized may vary, including white noise, pink noise, nature sounds, and music. Sounds can also be specifically 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 important that you work with a qualified hearing professional.
Several 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 condition while developing practical coping techniques.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which combines cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, patients 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.
Combined with the more targeted sound and behavioral therapies, sufferers can participate in general wellness activities that tend to lessen the severity of tinnitus. These activities include healthy diets, regular exercise, social activity, leisure activities, and any other activities that promote enhanced 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 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 demonstrated to grant some relief to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being carried out in labs and universities across the globe, as researchers continue to hunt for the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. Although many 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 established 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 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 comparable to the above therapies in its use of electromagnetic energy, the difference being that DBS is an invasive procedure requiring surgery and the placing 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 optimal tinnitus treatment for you is based on many 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.