What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a medical term for the perception of sound, often described as ringing, buzzing, hissing, roaring, whistling, clicking, chirping, pulsing and a host of other description when no sound is present. It can be constant or it can be intermittent and the volume can change in intensity. It can occur in one or both ears. Tinnitus is most commonly reported as being a problem when trying to sleep and when it is quiet. The American Tinnitus Association reports that as many as 50 million Americans report tinnitus, as many as 17 million seek treatment for it and approximately 2 million state it substantially interferes with the quality of their life.

What Causes Tinnitus?

While research advances have uncovered more about the physiological nature of tinnitus in the last few years, the exact mechanisms of tinnitus are still not very well understood. Generally, tinnitus is believed to be a response by the hearing centers of the brain to trauma to the sensory receptors of the ear, most likely caused by to noise exposure and is often related to hearing loss.

In less common cases, a medical condition or even medication could be an underlying cause of the tinnitus. Because of that, is recommended that one seek the advice of an Ear, Nose & Throat physician to rule out whether this could be the case.

Treatments for Tinnitus

Generally speaking, there is no “cure” for tinnitus. However, different persons report different degrees of success and relief from the various treatments available. The following is a list of treatments available, beginning with a list of those treatments shown through research to provide the most merit in relieving tinnitus.

  • BioFeedback/Cognitive Therapy

    Although both biofeedback and cognitive therapy are not the same, the concept is to treat the response to the tinnitus and generally learn to focus on something other than the tinnitus. The goal is to learn new coping skills and to manage the perception of the tinnitus to something more positive and pleasant. Although it requires some time and effort on the part of the individual, studies have shown this to statistically bring relief to tinnitus sufferers.

  • Amplification (hearing devices)

    Many hearing impaired persons report partial to total relief from tinnitus upon hearing device use. It is not understood why and results vary from person to person. The underlying theory is that sound is now more easily heard and “masks” or drowns out the bothersome lower level tinnitus. The other theory is that hearing sense receptors that had previously been “silent” due to the hearing loss are now activated or “stimulated” and are now responding and sending sound information to the hearing nerve pathways in a healthy and appropriate manner.

  • Sound Therapy

    Various sound therapies are available for those with and without hearing impairment. There are wearable devices similar to hearing aids, ipods and even non-wearable therapies that employ table top devices or computers. Various sounds are used to cover up (mask) the tinnitus. Non-traditional sound therapies would include sleeping with a fan or television turned on so that one does not notice or “hear” the tinnitus.

  • Drug Therapy

    As reported by the American Tinnitus Association (2013), there is no drug designed specifically for the treatment of tinnitus. However, various drugs have been researched and used to relieve tinnitus with some success. They include medications for anti-anxiety, antidepressants, antihistamines, anticonvulsants and anesthetics.

  • Alternative Treatments

    As reported by the American Tinnitus Association on their website (2013), some people have reported beneficial results from minerals such as magnesium and zinc, B vitamins, herbal and homeopathic remedies like Ginko biloba and from therapies like acupuncture, magnets, chiropractic, hyperbaric oxygen and even hypnosis. However, research studies have not statistically shown these treatments to be helpful for tinnitus across a population of tinnitus sufferers. It is recommended that one speak with a physician first before considering an alternative treatment.

If tinnitus is interfering with your quality of life, Peninsula Hearing Services can provide you with a consultation to help you find relief from tinnitus.

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