Do you experience ringing in your ear(s)? If so, you are not alone. Tinnitus affects an estimated 50 million Americans – about 20% of the population. It can range from a mild annoyance to a full-fledged problem that severely impacts quality of life. While there is no cure for tinnitus, there are treatments that make it less of a distraction. Because tinnitus is typically related to an underlying condition causing hearing loss, identifying the problem may lead to a medical or surgical solution. Unfortunately, most cases of tinnitus are simply related to presbycusis (age related hearing loss) or noise induced hearing loss and amplifying external sounds with hearing aids is often the best option for treatment.
When certain regions of the brain do not receive noise input from the ears, abnormal neuronal activity results, causing tinnitus. So, tinnitus comes from the brain, not the ears. It is as if the brain is making up noise to replace what it is missing. This is why improving hearing loss with hearing aids commonly results in a reduction in tinnitus. Hearing aids can also help you better distinguish one sound from another, improving communication and helping you focus and concentrate. Many hearing aids also come packaged with noise generators to replace ambient sounds if amplification alone does not reduce tinnitus.
Masking Devices or Acoustic Therapy
Masking devices are worn like hearing aids and emit “white noise” that often dampens tinnitus. But other ambient noises may be used to reduce tinnitus, including fans, soft music and television playing in the background. These noises help “tune out” tinnitus. Tinnitus can be extremely bothersome at night when trying to fall asleep. Use of a sound machine, such as the one pictured, can give your brain another stimulus to focus on enabling you to fall asleep more easily by “masking” the tinnitus.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
The goal of tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) is to make tinnitus less noticeable through counseling about the auditory (hearing) system and sound enrichment.
- Counseling sessions with our audiologist will teach you more about tinnitus and how your perception of tinnitus affects how you react to it. You will learn methods for changing how you perceive and react to tinnitus and become less aware of it.
- Sound enrichment involves wearing a device in the ear 24/7 which produces sounds that mask tinnitus effectively without being annoying or intrusive. These sounds match the pitch and quality of the tinnitus.
- Retraining exercises aim to alter your reaction to tinnitus, decrease awareness of it and eventually suppress feelings of annoyance associated with tinnitus.
Studies show that as many as 80% of those with high frequency tinnitus show improvement with TRT.
Psychologic Treatment: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Biofeedback and simply better management of stress can help alter the way you perceive and respond to tinnitus.
Medication or Herbal Supplements: No herbal supplements, vitamins or medications have ever been shown to reduce tinnitus. This includes ginkgo biloba, lipoflavinoids and “Quietus”. Acupuncture has also been determined to be no better than placebo in reducing tinnitus.