Roughly 45 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound where no external sound source exists. This phantom sound is normally perceived as a ringing sound, but can also materialize as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking.
The first thing to understand about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. Consequently, tinnitus may signal an underlying medical condition that, when cured, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other blockages, blood vessel conditions, certain medications, and other underlying conditions can all bring about tinnitus, so the starting point is ruling out any conditions that would would need medical or surgical treatment.
In most instances of tinnitus, however, no specific cause is discovered. In these instances, tinnitus is assumed to be caused by destruction of 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 often cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people must suffer without assistance. Although there is no conclusive cure for the majority of cases 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 persists.
The following are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
Most cases of tinnitus are connected with some type of hearing loss. In patients with hearing loss, less sound stimulation reaches the brain, and in response, researchers believe that the brain changes physically and chemically to accommodate the deficit 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 identified with tinnitus become more perceptible. But when hearing aids are used, the amplified sound signals cause the sounds of tinnitus to blend into the richer background sounds. Hearing aids for tinnitus patients can then offer multiple benefits, such as better hearing, increased auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a broad term used to describe a number of approaches to using external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. After some time, the brain can learn to recognize the sounds of tinnitus as insignificant in comparison to the contending sound, thereby minimizing the intensity of tinnitus.
Sound therapy can be delivered through masking devices but can also be delivered through selected hearing aid models that can stream sound wirelessly by means of 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 sent 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 correspond to the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, delivering personalized masking relief. Seeing that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s vital that you work with a experienced hearing professional.
Several behavioral therapies exist to help the patient address the psychological and emotional elements of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, whereby the patient learns to accept the affliction while developing helpful 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 formulate 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 consciously ignored.
Coupled with the more targeted sound and behavioral therapies, patients can participate in general wellness activities that often lessen the severity of tinnitus. These activities include healthy diets, regular exercise, social activity, leisure activities, and any other activities that foster enhanced health and reduced stress.
There are currently no FDA-approved medications that have been shown to cure or relieve tinnitus directly, but there are medications that can treat stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which can render tinnitus worse or are caused by tinnitus itself. In fact, some antidepressant and antianxiety medications have been shown to provide some alleviation to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of encouraging research is being carried out in labs and universities globally, as researchers continue to search for the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. Even though several 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 current treatments rather than waiting for any experimental treatment to hit the market.
Here are a few of the experimental therapies currently being evaluated:
- 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 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 outcomes have been mixed and the risks of invasive procedures oftentimes overshadow the benefits.
The Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimum tinnitus treatment for you is based on several factors, and is best appraised 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. Set up your appointment today and we’ll find the personalized solution that works best for you.