Nearly 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no outside sound source exists. This phantom sound is typically 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. As a result, tinnitus may signify an underlying health condition that, once cured, cures the tinnitus. Earwax accumulation or other blockages, blood vessel conditions, select medications, and other underlying disorders can all trigger tinnitus, so the first step is ruling out any ailments that would require medical or surgical treatment.
In most cases of tinnitus, however, no specific cause is found. In these cases, tinnitus is presumed to be caused by destruction of 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.
Whenever tinnitus is induced by nerve cell damage, or is connected with hearing loss, tinnitus oftentimes cannot be cured—but that doesn’t imply that people must suffer without help. While there is no definitive cure for the majority of instances of chronic tinnitus, numerous tinnitus treatment 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:
The majority of 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, investigators believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the lack of stimulation. It is this maladaptive response 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 noticeable. But when hearing aids are utilized, 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 improved hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a wide-ranging phrase used to identify several approaches to making use of external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. After some time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as unimportant relative to the competing sound, thereby minimizing 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 connect with compatible Apple products, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds installed on the Apple devices can be delivered 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, delivering customized masking relief. Seeing that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s imperative that you work with a knowledgeable hearing professional.
Numerous behavioral therapies exist to help the patient deal with the psychological and emotional components of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, in which the individual learns to accept the ailment while developing beneficial coping methods.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which blends cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, people learn to establish healthy cognitive and emotional reactions to tinnitus while using sound therapy to train their brains to reclassify tinnitus as trivial, so that it can be deliberately ignored.
Along with the more specific sound and behavioral therapies, patients can engage in general wellness activities that have been found to lessen the severity of tinnitus. These activities include healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, recreational activities, and any other activities that contribute to improved health and reduced stress.
There are currently no FDA-approved medications that have been demonstrated 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 medicines have been shown to furnish 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 seek out 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 guarantee that they ever will be. People suffering from tinnitus are encouraged to seek out current treatments rather than waiting for any experimental treatment to hit the market.
Here are a few of the experimental therapies currently 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 means of delivering electromagnetic pulses into the hyperactive brain tissue that is believed to cause tinnitus.
- Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is comparable 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 outweigh the benefits.
The Optimal Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The best tinnitus treatment for you is based on several factors, and is best determined 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. Book your appointment today and we’ll find the personalized solution that works best for you.