You might need to think about tinnitus treatment if you are able to hear sounds that are not coming from an outside source. These internal noises, heard only by you, can range from ringing, buzzing, whistling, humming, right up to loud roaring noises. Some people also experience musical hallucinations. The sound may be constant or variable, in one or both ears or from an undeterminable place in your head.
In most cases, tinnitus cannot be cured completely; however, there are tinnitus treatment strategies that can help to manage your symptoms. Not every tinnitus treatment works for everyone but there is good evidence that the therapies available do have a positive impact.
This article on tinnitus treatment is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
What are the causes?
Tinnitus is thought to be caused by spontaneous signals running along nerve pathways between the brain and the ear being perceived as sounds that would normally be filtered out. This change in the filtration or perception of sound can occur for many different reasons. You might start to experience tinnitus symptoms after being exposed to a loud noise, or it may be an effect due to hearing loss, stress or anxiety, ear infections, or other illnesses such as diabetes or thyroid disorders.
Is treatment necessary?
It is common to experience mild, short-lived tinnitus following exposure to loud noise such as at a music concert, and as many as one in 10 people experience constant mild symptoms that never really need tinnitus treatment. If things get worse and you develop moderate or severe tinnitus that intrudes on your daily activities or your ability to sleep, various tinnitus treatments could prove useful.
What types of treatments are available?
The first step towards a tinnitus treatment that works effectively is to establish the cause of your tinnitus. If tinnitus is caused by another illness, dealing with that first may make tinnitus treatment unnecessary. If not you will need to try reducing or managing your symptoms using one of several possible approaches to tinnitus treatment:
Self-help tinnitus treatment - As symptoms are often worse in a silent environment, some people find that background noise such as a fan or quiet radio is an effective form of tinnitus treatment. Stress reduction through exercise and relaxation may also be useful.
Counselling - This may seem an unlikely tinnitus treatment but because your perception of tinnitus can often be exacerbated by fear and anxiety, counselling can relieve these anxieties and reduce your perception of the sounds that come with tinnitus. Cognitive behavioural therapy is also sometimes used in tinnitus treatment.
Medicines - Tinnitus treatment using drugs is possible but no medicine available can completely cure the condition. Antidepressants can be beneficial tinnitus treatments if your tinnitus is made worse by anxiety or depression. These medications are generally much more effective if combined with counselling. If your tinnitus is caused by an underlying condition such as an ear infection, this will need specific treatment – a course of antibiotics, for example.
Tinnitus treatment with hearing aids - Hearing aids can be used to treat tinnitus if you also have some hearing loss. A hearing aid amplifies normal sounds, which can often help drown out the tinnitus.
Sound therapy - Low-level background noise – or ‘white noise’ – can be a helpful form of tinnitus treatment. As well as using a radio or fan, there are several specialist ‘tinnitus maskers’ available. All work by drowning out tinnitus noises, so that you become far less aware of them. Wearable noise generators (WNGs) are worn in the ear, and there are also external devices that can be placed on your bedside table or fitted into your pillow.
Tinnitus retraining therapy - In severe cases, tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) can be effective. TRT uses a sound generator worn in the ear to train the brain to ignore the tinnitus using very specific frequencies of sound. This type of tinnitus treatment involves a programme of specially developed therapeutic sounds or sound patterns delivered for several hours per day and designed to help your perception of the tinnitus to gradually fade away. When all other treatments fail, people with stubborn and very troublesome symptoms find that this daily tinnitus treatment can help but it usually requires several weeks or months before you really notice an improvement.
Do they work?
On its own, counselling helps around 60% of sufferers to achieve a more acceptable state by finding new ways to cope with tinnitus. When TRT is used, studies show that around three-quarters of tinnitus sufferers receiving TRT for one year improve by 40% or more. Tinnitus treatment consisting of a combination of TRT and counselling is a particularly effective approach. While specific counselling techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy have not yet been shown to directly affect tinnitus, they do reduce stress and can contribute to tinnitus treatment strategies by lowering anxiety and helping you to develop new coping strategies.