Around one-fifth of individuals experience tinnitus in some form or severity. These people perceive a ringing, buzzing, clicking, or hissing noise that no one else can hear. Some cases of tinnitus are constant while others are intermittent. Though there is no cure for the condition, tinnitus treatments do exist. If the underlying cause is untreatable, many options and tools can help reduce the intensity or frequency of the symptoms. The ultimate goal of these options is to improve the affected person’s quality of life.
Most people develop tinnitus as a symptom of some level of hearing loss. The current professional consensus is that the brain begins to change to adapt to this loss, and these changes eventually result in tinnitus. Hearing aids supplement the volume of exterior noise which allows a person with hearing loss to improve their hearing. The amplification of exterior sound also reduces the interior sounds of tinnitus. A 2007 study of 230 individuals found around 60 percent of patients experience minor to moderate relief from tinnitus while wearing hearing aids. Around 20 percent found major relief while wearing them.
Tinnitus affects many aspects of a person’s life, particularly sleep. It can be difficult for a person to fall asleep when listening to a constant buzzing. Some individuals find relief with white noise sound machines. These speaker-like objects loop subtle nature or environmental sounds or white noises. Similar options include media players, radios, and televisions, as well as electric fans or table fountains. While they do not have long-lasting effects, the machines do reduce tinnitus intensity while in use.
While white noise machines do not alleviate tinnitus over time, some noise machines do. Certain physicians opt to treat tinnitus using modified-sound or notched-music devices that play custom tones and sounds. These devices fit around the ears and help slowly train a person to ignore the tinnitus sounds. Combination devices that alternate between the tones of modified-sound devices and white noise also exist. These are typically portable and may provide more consistent benefits.
Though tinnitus is generally a phantom sensation, it can sometimes indicate a physical issue. For example, dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint in the jaw can cause tinnitus. In rare cases, excess earwax can also cause tinnitus. By treating the underlying condition, a person can alleviate or otherwise cure their tinnitus symptoms. Certain medications can also cause tinnitus or tinnitus-like symptoms. If this is the case, a physician can prescribe drugs with different side effects.
Factors such as a sedentary lifestyle can influence tinnitus. Individuals with active and healthy lifestyles typically perceive their tinnitus as less intense. There is little evidence that supports the benefits of diet and exercise on tinnitus, but both can increase blood flow and energy levels, as well as reduce stress, all of which can all result in less-intense tinnitus. One dietary change that could help: cutting out caffeine. Some reports indicate the stimulant exacerbates the noises of tinnitus. Though there is little scientific evidence of this, some individuals may find it helpful to reduce their caffeine intake.
Medical professionals note that people with tinnitus often experience high levels of emotional stress. In addition, it is common for these people to experience depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people learn to live with their condition. Because there is no cure for tinnitus, this therapy teaches tools and strategies to manage the challenges that tinnitus brings. A study in the Korean Journal of Audiology found CBT significantly reduces the irritation that many people feel due to their tinnitus.
A variation of cognitive behavioral therapy -- acceptance, and commitment therapy -- teaches a person to accept and manage the stress and emotions that tinnitus can cause. A counselor will help change their patients’ perception of both tinnitus and themselves. The theory involves focusing on the idea that it is counterproductive to ignore or attempt to control negative emotions or experiences. Instead, it is most optimal to face those feelings head one and learn to address them in a healthy manner.
Many other therapies also teach people to accept their emotions. Mindfulness-based stress reduction emphasizes awareness of the physical sensations, emotions, and cognitive processes the body is constantly experiencing. Then, a counselor teaches the patient to accept and control these aspects of her life. As part of this process, the patient also learns to address the negative feelings she associates with tinnitus. This therapy was originally used to treat chronic pain, but it appears to be equally effective in treating tinnitus.
Some tinnitus therapies grew directly from a desire to treat the condition. Tinnitus activities treatment is a variation of cognitive behavioral therapy that includes sound therapy. Tinnitus retraining therapy focuses on helping patients acclimate to their tinnitus and turn it into neutral background noise. The United States Veterans Administration’s National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research created the progressive tinnitus management system, which combines many forms of therapy. They also offer a digital version to individuals who cannot seek face-to-face treatment from a professional due to location or other factors.
No miracle drug or medication can cure tinnitus. Despite this, some physicians find treating the anxiety and depression that often accompany tinnitus can reduce the intensity of the internal sounds. Antidepressants and antianxiety medications can help people manage the psychological aspects of their condition. However, there is some evidence that suggests these medications may make it difficult for a person to acclimate to tinnitus.
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