Causes & Treatments of Tinnitus
Tinnitus (literally “ringing” in Latin) is characterized by ringing, buzzing, or noises that originate in the ear or the head, and may result in discomfort and stress.
Though this condition is usually not dangerous, it can be a symptom of another health problem or underlying condition. Tinnitus can cause many stressful side effects, including fatigue, sleep problems, concentration difficulty, memory problems, depression, anxiety, and irritability. Though it's not necessarily serious, it can be quite disturbing.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus has many causes (etiologies) and can have a major impact on daily activities. However, it is treatable. When an individual is seen for complaints of tinnitus (ringing or noise in the head not from an outside source), it is important to first distinguish what type of tinnitus is being experienced. If the tinnitus is something only you can hear, it is known as subjective tinnitus, whereas, if another person can hear it as well, it is known as objective tinnitus. If objective, Dr. Williams will make the appropriate referral for medical evaluation/intervention after she has completed a diagnostic hearing evaluation.
Since tinnitus can be caused by any number of things, from certain medications to a variety of health problems, Dr. Williams will start by taking a detailed history of your health and medications, perform a thorough examination, and perform a diagnostic hearing evaluation of the auditory system. This evaluation can include more advanced testing specifically designed to address the pitch and loudness of tinnitus and any residual inhibition.
Common causes of tinnitus include:
- Exposure to LOUD NOISE
- Age-related hearing loss or other types of hearing loss
- Medications and their interactions
- Noise and chemical exposure
- Stress and depression
- Earwax buildup or blockages
- Abnormal bone growth in the ear
- Meniere's disease
- Head or neck injuries
- Long-term aspirin use
- Benign tumor of the cranial nerve
In some cases, the exact cause of the tinnitus may not be found, but serious underlying conditions can be ruled out.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Tinnitus sometimes resolves on its own, or it may be treated by addressing the underlying condition. Depending on the individual case, some tinnitus treatments may include:
- Magnesium, zinc
- Vitamin B supplementation
- Homeopathic remedies
- Cranial-sacral therapy
- Hyperbaric oxygen
It is important to note that there is not one treatment that will work for each individual, and at this point, there are no specific drugs that will "cure" tinnitus. Dr. Williams warns people to steer clear of those advertisements claiming to eliminate those "head noises" with their elixir/pills. These so-called treatments are not founded in peer-reviewed clinical studies and have no clinical basis for their claims of curing tinnitus.
Sound therapy is an option that can help lessen the severity of tinnitus by refocusing the brain and has clinical evidence of being very effective in reducing the overall impact of tinnitus on daily activities. Sound therapy involves the use of a sound-generating device, either tabletop or ear level, as part of an overall program designed by Dr. Williams that includes informational counseling and other activities to help ease the stress of tinnitus. Whether through sound speakers, hearing instruments, or specially designed electronic devices, the important aspect is to never be in quiet.
Tinnitus treatments may not make the tinnitus disappear completely, but they may make it less noticeable and ease your stress and anxiety from it. Speak with Dr. Williams about the best tinnitus treatment option for you.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)
One treatment that incorporates sound therapy is called Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), also known as habituation therapy. This therapy attempts to retrain your brain into perceiving the tinnitus in a different way.
About 75% of people with tinnitus are not bothered by it because their brains process it and file it as another everyday noise. TRT tries to teach your brain how to process the noise so that it doesn't bother you anymore (or not as much).
Medications may be an option, especially if they are to treat an underlying condition and relieve its symptoms. However, no medications have been approved specifically for the treatment of tinnitus.
Dr. Williams will also be able to refer you for psychological treatment or support, as tinnitus can be life-changing and hard to deal with, especially when it is a chronic problem. A tinnitus support group may also be of help.
After treatment has taken place, further maintenance is important. This may include management of associated health problems or ongoing therapies to support health and manage tinnitus.
Progressive Tinnitus Management (PTM)
Developed by James Henry, Ph.D., et al, PTM teaches individuals how to "manage their reactions" to tinnitus so that their quality of life is significantly improved. Based on a hierarchal approach, the initial assessment determines the course of action needed to empower the individual in dealing with their tinnitus, and will progress to more individualized care as needed.
An audiologic assessment is the first step followed by patient education on the use of sound therapy and coping strategies to manage how an individual reacts to their tinnitus. Different levels of education are provided depending upon the individual's need. Sound therapy can include table top or ear level sound generators, and can also include hearing instruments if a hearing loss is detected.
In summary, tinnitus does not have to control one's life. Help is available.