There are a few answers to the question, “what is Tinnitus?” Tinnitus is any noise in the ear that has no identifiable source. People who have tinnitus report hearing whistling, buzzing, chirping, hissing, humming, roaring, or even screaming. Those with tinnitus can rarely pinpoint where the sounds come from; some come from both ears, others only one, some seem like they emanate from inside the head, and others from a distance. Tinnitus sound can either be constant or intermittent and may pulse or remain steady.
Most people have experienced tinnitus symptoms in their lives. Whether from a hard rock concert, being close to a loud engine, or firing a gun without ear protection, the noise that persists after these sounds stop is tinnitus. Some drugs can also cause tinnitus.
But tinnitus that lasts longer than six months is considered chronic tinnitus, and people with chronic tinnitus know how maddening it can be. For those people, the questions that weigh most on their mind are, “am I going to hear this forever?” and, “how can I stop my tinnitus from getting worse?” This article discusses methods for people with tinnitus to improve and even cure their tinnitus.
People may mistakenly believe that what they’re hearing is tinnitus when, in reality, the noise is emanating from a specific source. For example, someone may hear a whooshing noise that they think is tinnitus, but their clinician discovers it’s a heart murmur.
Damaged hair cells can also cause tinnitus. Sound waves travel through the ear canal into the middle and inner ear, where the cochlea’s hair cells transform them into electrical signals. The auditory nerve then sends electrical signals to the auditory cortex in the brain. Tinnitus occurs when the hair cells in the cochlea become damaged by loud noise or ototoxic drugs. In these cases, the brain doesn’t receive the signals it expects to receive. The signals stimulate abnormal activity in neurons, which cause illusory sounds.
Musculoskeletal disorders can also cause tinnitus. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can cause teeth grinding and other symptoms that cause tinnitus. In these cases, treating the underlying TMJ disorder can help reduce tinnitus symptoms. Doctors often recommend massage therapy for those who have both tinnitus and TMJ disorder.
Treating the mental disorders caused by tinnitus, such as depression or insomnia, is an effective way to reduce symptom severity. In addition to mental health services, several tinnitus treatments have shown promising results. As discussed earlier in this article, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating tinnitus. Often, combining multiple techniques leads to the best results. If you have tinnitus, check with an audiologist to see which treatment combination best suits your condition.
There are no FDA-approved drug treatments that cure or treat tinnitus. Acupuncture and the herb gingko bilboa are examples of treatment methods that many believe to work, but insubstantial evidence exists on these methods to recommend them as an effective treatment. By far, the most effective treatments for tinnitus are behavioral strategies and sound-generating devices. Used in combination, these methods provide consistent improvement in tinnitus patients’ symptoms.
Tinnitus retraining therapy is one of the most proven treatments for tinnitus. The first component of TRT is explaining the cause of tinnitus and how the auditory system aggravates patients’ symptoms. The second part of TRT uses sound therapy to target abnormal neuronal activity and train the auditory system to recognize tinnitus sounds.
The audiologist inserts a device into the patient’s ears that produces low-level noise, which mimics the tinnitus sounds the patient hears. This noise matches the patient’s tinnitus pitch, volume, and quality. TRT lasts anywhere from one to two years, and the NCBI found it produces more longevous results than standard of care (SC) treatment.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy reframes the way patients interact with their tinnitus symptoms. In this type of treatment, patients keep a diary and perform homework to build coping skills. CBT is generally short-term- anywhere from 2-6 months.
CBT is not designed to lessen tinnitus symptoms. Rather, the techniques used in this type of therapy change the patient’s relationship with the sounds. By developing adequate responses to the sounds, patients can enjoy a higher quality-of-life and engage less with the bothersome aspects of the background noise they hear.
Masking therapy uses devices to generate sound such as low-level white noise or a high-pitched hiss to reduce the patient’s identification of tinnitus sound. These therapies can also produce residual inhibition, which means patients don’t notice tinnitus for a short time after they turn off the mask.
Patients don’t necessarily need a specialized device to implement masking therapy. They can also use music or a white noise machine as a substitute. Masking therapies don’t have enough compiled evidence to show definitive results. Still, experts often recommend experimenting with this type of tinnitus therapy to see what kind of results patients experience before trying more extensive treatment options.
Biofeedback helps reduce stress by changing the boy’s response to stress. In biofeedback treatment, the patient has electrodes hooked up to them that feed information into a computer. The computer registers the patient’s skin temperature, pulse, and muscle tension. Through mindfulness-based techniques, the patient can discover how to monitor and change these bodily responses to stress.
Choosing which tinnitus treatment works best for you is something to discuss with your audiologist. Depending on the underlying causes of your tinnitus, some treatments will work better than others. A local audiologist will diagnose your tinnitus and devise a comprehensive treatment plan that stops your tinnitus from getting worse and reduces your symptoms.