The symptoms of tinnitus vary but most patients report hearing an insistent or sometimes intermittent hissing, ringing, or buzzing sound coming from either both ears or one ear, or from outside their head. While the main cause of tinnitus is still unknown, it can be triggered by side effects to anti-inflammatory medication, exposure to loud noise, ear wax build-up in the ear canal, old age, or sensorineural hearing loss. There are two types of tinnitus: subjective tinnitus, where the tinnitus sufferer is the only one who can hear the tinnitus sound, and objective tinnitus, where other people can hear the tinnitus sound as well.
Some of the treatment approaches that work involves combining the use of assistive hearing and sound-generating devices with behavioral therapies. These approaches involve masking, biofeedback stress management, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). These treatment options are subjective as the degree of tinnitus varies in tinnitus patients, but keep reading to find a course of treatment that works for you.
1. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)
Tinnitus retraining therapy treats chronic tinnitus and aims to make the auditory system accustomed to the perception of tinnitus signals. In this way, it makes these signals less pronounced. An audiologist will first begin by counseling and explaining to the tinnitus patient what causes the development of tinnitus. After this, the treatment progresses to the second stage, known as sound therapy.
With sound therapy, a hearing specialist inserts a sound generator in the patient’s ear to emulate the patient’s tinnitus frequency. TRT is effective in the treatment of high-pitched tinnitus. However, depending on the severity of the tinnitus, the treatment may take up to two years for it to be effective.
2. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
As a treatment for tinnitus, CBT involves using relaxation techniques to transform how the tinnitus patient thinks about their tinnitus diagnosis. Working with a licensed therapist, the patient typically keeps a diary where they write down and monitor any self-defeating thoughts that may arise because of their diagnosis.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is usually a short-term course of treatment and can last anywhere between three to six months. While CBT may not reduce the loudness of tinnitus, it can make the perception of the tinnitus sound easier to manage. It can also provide some quality of life improvements as a tinnitus treatment.
The American Tinnitus Association recommends wearing sound masking devices for the treatment of tinnitus. They are worn like hearing aids and produce ambient background noise, sometimes referred to as white-noise. The noise that they generate masks the awareness of tinnitus, providing relief from the discomfort of tinnitus. Sound maskers offer only temporary relief from the perception of tinnitus and are only effective as short-term treatment options.
4. Biofeedback and Stress Management
Dealing with tinnitus can be stressful and this stress can also make the symptoms of tinnitus worse. Biofeedback is a treatment option that doubles up as a relaxation technique. For it to work, wires (or electrodes) are connected to the patient’s skin and they monitor bodily responses such as the heartbeat and muscular tension. This information is displayed on a computer screen and the patient learns to look out for these markers of stress and develop better mental and emotional responses.
While there is no FDA-approved cure for the treatment of chronic tinnitus, holistic approaches such as acupuncture and hypnosis are believed to have a significant effect in managing tinnitus symptoms. A series of randomized clinical trials conducted in 2018 found that acupuncture was effective in minimizing the symptoms of tinnitus and improving the tinnitus sufferer’s quality of life.
While these studies may prove promising for your daily life, consult your audiologist or hearing health specialist before pursuing this course of treatment.