Nearly 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no external sound source exists. This phantom sound is normally identified as a ringing sound, but can also materialize as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
First it is important to know about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. As such, tinnitus may indicate an underlying medical condition that, once cured, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other blockages, blood vessel disorders, selected medications, and other underlying disorders can all cause tinnitus, so the first step 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 cases, tinnitus is presumed 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.
When tinnitus is caused by nerve cell damage, or is linked with hearing loss, tinnitus often cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people need to suffer without assistance. While there is no definitive cure for most cases 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.
The following are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
The majority of cases of tinnitus are linked with some type 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 deficiency of stimulation. It is this maladaptive reaction to sound deprivation that results in tinnitus.
Tinnitus is worsened with hearing loss because when surrounding sound is muffled, the sounds identified with tinnitus become more conspicuous. 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 furnish multiple benefits, including enhanced hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a broad phrase used to identify a number of methods to making use of external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. With time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as trivial in comparison to the contending sound, thereby lessening the intensity level of tinnitus.
Sound therapy can be delivered through masking devices but can also be delivered through certain hearing aid models that can stream sound wirelessly using Bluetooth technology. Some hearing aid models even link up with compatible Apple devices, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds set up on the Apple devices can be delivered wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The kinds of masking sounds utilized can vary, 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, supplying customized masking relief. Seeing that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s vital that you work with a experienced hearing professional.
Numerous behavioral therapies exist to help the patient contend with the psychological and emotional elements of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, in which the individual learns to accept the ailment while establishing useful 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, people 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 targeted sound and behavioral therapies, people can engage in general wellness activities that tend to reduce the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, recreational activities, and any other activities that foster improved health and lowered stress.
There are at the present time 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 make tinnitus worse or are caused by tinnitus itself. In fact, some antidepressant and antianxiety medications have been demonstrated to produce some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being carried out in labs and universities across the world, as researchers continue to search for the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. Even though many of these experimental therapies have shown some promise, remember that they are not yet readily available, and that there’s no certainty that they ever will be. Those struggling with tinnitus are encouraged to seek out existing treatments rather than waiting for any experimental treatment to hit the market.
Here are a couple of the experimental therapies presently being evaluated:
- Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) delivers electromagnetic pulses into the affected brain tissue to reduce the hyperactivity that is believed 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 preceding 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 dangers of invasive procedures oftentimes overshadow the benefits.
The Optimal Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The ideal tinnitus treatment for you is based on several factors, and is best assessed by a certified hearing specialist. As your local hearing care professionals, we’ll do everything we can to help you find relief from your tinnitus. Schedule your appointment today and we’ll find the customized solution that works best for you.