Understanding Your Treatment Options for Tinnitus
Roughly 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.
First it is important to know about tinnitus is that it’s a symptom, not a disease. Consequently, tinnitus may indicate an underlying health condition that, once treated, cures the tinnitus. Earwax buildup or other blockages, blood vessel disorders, specific medications, and other underlying conditions 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 presumed to be caused by damage 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.
Whenever tinnitus is caused by nerve cell damage, or is connected with hearing loss, tinnitus often cannot be cured—but that doesn’t mean people have to suffer without assistance. While there is no conclusive cure for most cases 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 continues.
Here are some of the treatment options for tinnitus:
Most cases of tinnitus are connected with some kind 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 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 conspicuous. 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 furnish multiple benefits, such as better hearing, enhanced auditory stimulation, and a “masking effect” for tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a general phrase used to identify several methods to making use of external sound to “mask” the tinnitus. In 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 provided through specific hearing aid models that can stream sound wirelessly by using Bluetooth technology. Some hearing aid models even connect with compatible Apple devices, including iPhones, so that any masking sounds installed on the Apple devices can be transmitted wirelessly to the hearing aids.
The types of masking sounds used differs, including white noise, pink noise, nature sounds, and music. Sounds can also be specifically designed to match the sound frequency of the patient’s tinnitus, providing individualized masking relief. Given that each patient will respond differently to different masking sounds, it’s essential that you work with a experienced hearing professional.
Several behavioral therapies exist to help the patient manage the psychological and emotional components of tinnitus. One example is mindfulness-based stress reduction, during which the patient learns to accept the ailment while developing practical coping techniques.
You may have also heard the term Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which incorporates cognitive-behavioral therapy with sound masking therapy. With Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, people 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 deliberately ignored.
Together with the more targeted sound and behavioral therapies, patients can participate in general wellness activities that frequently reduce the severity of tinnitus. These activities consist of healthy diets, frequent exercise, social activity, recreational activities, and any other activities that foster enhanced health and lowered stress.
There are currently no FDA-approved medications that have been found to cure or relieve tinnitus directly, but there are drugs 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 deliver some relief to patients with severe tinnitus.
A flurry of promising research is being conducted in labs and universities across the globe, as researchers continue to seek out the underlying neurological cause of tinnitus and its ultimate cure. Although 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. Those suffering from 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 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 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 positioning 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 quite often outweigh the benefits.
The Best Treatment For Your Tinnitus
The optimum tinnitus treatment for you is dependent on several factors, and is best determined 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.