Tinnitus is a condition characterized by the perception of sound without any external source. This phantom noise can range from a low hum to a high-pitched ringing and can be intermittent or constant, significantly impacting an individual's quality of life. Fortunately, there are numerous treatment options available to help manage tinnitus and provide relief to those affected by this persistent condition.
One of the first steps in tinnitus treatment is a thorough examination by a qualified healthcare professional. They will assess the severity of the condition, identify any underlying causes, and determine the best course of action. In some cases, addressing the root cause of tinnitus can alleviate the symptoms. For example, if tinnitus is caused by an earwax blockage or a middle ear infection, appropriate medical intervention can resolve the issue and alleviate the accompanying ringing sensation.
When no underlying cause can be identified, or if the tinnitus persists despite treatment of the underlying cause, other treatment approaches come into play. Here are some commonly employed methods for managing tinnitus:
Sound therapy: This approach aims to mask or distract from the perception of tinnitus by introducing external sounds. White noise machines, fans, or specially designed tinnitus maskers can help provide relief by creating a more soothing auditory environment. Additionally, using hearing aids can amplify ambient sounds, making the tinnitus less noticeable.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Tinnitus can have a significant psychological impact, leading to anxiety, stress, and sleep disturbances. CBT helps individuals develop coping strategies and change negative thought patterns associated with tinnitus, ultimately reducing its impact on daily life.
Medications: Certain medications, such as tricyclic antidepressants, antianxiety drugs, and even some anticonvulsants, have been found to be helpful in managing tinnitus for some individuals. However, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional before starting any medication, as the effectiveness and potential side effects can vary.
Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT): TRT combines sound therapy and counseling to help individuals habituate to the presence of tinnitus and reduce their emotional response to it. By using a sound generator and regular counseling sessions, TRT aims to retrain the brain's perception of tinnitus, making it less bothersome over time.
Alternative therapies: Some individuals find relief from tinnitus through alternative therapies such as acupuncture, hypnosis, or herbal supplements. While the evidence supporting these approaches is limited, they may be worth exploring on an individual basis, under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
Finding the Right Treatment
It's important to note that tinnitus treatment approaches can vary from person to person. What works for one individual may not be effective for another. Therefore, a personalized and comprehensive approach that considers the individual's unique circumstances is crucial.
Living with Tinnitus
Living with tinnitus can be challenging, but with the right treatment and support, relief is possible. Seeking professional help, exploring various treatment options, and adopting healthy coping mechanisms can significantly improve one's quality of life. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and there are resources available to help you navigate through the persistent ringing in your ears.
Did You Know ?
The prevalence of tinnitus in Australia is estimated to be 1 in 3 people, and 1 in 6 suffer from it on a daily basis.
Tinnitus is often accompanied by a hearing loss, which accounts for about 90% of cases. World Health Organization (WHO) now defines tinnitus as a distinct condition and says that noise exposure is a substantial cause of permanent hearing loss globally. After age-related hearing loss, this is the second most common type of hearing loss. Although prevalence increases with age, it is common across all age groups, particularly following exposure to loud noise.
The condition is reported to be moderately or very debilitating to their quality of life by nearly 50% of individuals who suffer from it. Anxiety, depression, and sleep problems are all possible side effects.
How Sound Works
If you have tinnitus, you may have little understanding of what it is, why it occurs and what you can do about it. Understanding tinnitus and what causes it can help you to manage the condition. However, before you can understand the tinnitus, it’s important to understand how sound works. Here we share with you a video from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) that demonstrates how sound is supposed to make its journey from an external source, through the ear to the brain where it is perceived and understood.
Note: As with all videos, please make sure your volume on your computer is turned down to a comfortable volume.
Tinnitus is a subjective disorder, but there are clinical approaches to assess its audiometric and psychological consequences. The first step in treating tinnitus is to properly diagnose it. Here are some tests that hearing professionals can use to assess tinnitus.
Audiometric Testing of Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be evaluated and diagnosed by audiologists and other hearing health professionals. Because tinnitus is frequently caused by hearing loss, most clinicians begin with a full audiological evaluation. Typical hearing exams are:
Speech recognition test: A subjective assessment of a patient’s ability to hear and repeat certain words. Occasionally referred to as speech audiometry.
Pure tone audiogram is a subjective test that assesses the patient’s hearing across a range of frequencies (in Hertz) and loudness (measured in decibels).
Tympanogram: An objective test that evaluates the middle ear’s function, specifically the tympanic membrane’s and conduction bones’ mobility.
Acoustic reflex testing: An objective test that assesses the response of the middle ear muscles to loud noises.
Otoacoustic emission testing: The objective measurement of hair cell movement within the inner ear using extremely sensitive microphones.
It is critical to ascertain the precise gaps in a tinnitus patient’s hearing, as this frequently correlates with the form and quality of their tinnitus. (For example, high-frequency hearing loss frequently occurs in conjunction with high-frequency tinnitus.) Additionally, unique hearing markers may provide insight into various tinnitus therapy alternatives.
Hearing health specialists utilise an additional battery of tests when examining tinnitus situations. While there is no objective means to diagnose tinnitus at the moment, there are numerous protocols for assessing the patient’s subjective experience of tinnitus sound, pitch, and volume. To be more precise, the clinician may conduct the following tests:
Tinnitus Sound Matching: Patients are presented with typical tinnitus sounds in order to assist them in identifying their unique tinnitus experience. The health care provider may alter the pitch and layer various sounds to generate a precise audio representation of the tinnitus. Appropriate matching establishes a critical foundation for later tinnitus management therapy, which are frequently tailored to the unique characteristics of each patient.
Minimum Masking Level: The volume at which external narrowband noise conceals (or covers) the perception of tinnitus. The minimum masking level provides an approximation of how loud a patient feels his or her tinnitus and can be used in later tinnitus masking and sound therapy.
Loudness Discomfort Level: The volume at which external sound becomes uncomfortable or painful for a tinnitus patient. Sound therapy, masking, and hearing aids are all possible tinnitus treatments. Determining loudness discomfort levels is critical for those with severe noise sensitivity.
Additional tests may be ordered based on the patient’s symptoms, medical history, and/or risk factors. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be required in extreme cases of tinnitus but should only be used when independent clinical evaluation shows particular (rare) tinnitus etiologies.