Updated: Apr 24
One in every 7 people could experience tinnitus in their lifetime. Tinnitus could lead to lack of sleep, anxiety, poor concentration, and depression. There is no cure for tinnitus, however, people suffering from chronic tinnitus could try out a variety of techniques to manage it. Continue reading through this article to learn more about tinnitus, what causes tinnitus and common tinnitus therapy techniques that could alleviate your tinnitus symptoms.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the sound you hear without having an external source, in the other words the sound that you hear in your brain. There are several theories as to how tinnitus is set off. A theory suggests that tinnitus is created as a side-effect of a disorder in your auditory system, often a hearing loss as a result of damage or destroyed hair cells in your inner ear. So now you know why a large group of musicians and those working in noisy environments (e.g. machinery factories, construction,..) are more prone to tinnitus.
I'd reserve a technical discussion on this for another post so we can concentrate on the therapy side of tinnitus here (Tinnitus FAQ). Let's start with watching this 5 min video that would help you understand how tinnitus begins.
Is there a cure for tinnitus?
Tinnitus has been in the top 10 medical and health research domains for decades, yet there is no medical cure for tinnitus up to the date of this article. The tinnitus therapy techniques discussed below provide means to reduce the occurrence and soften the intensity of the tinnitus i.e. help manage tinnitus.
What is the most effective management technique for tinnitus?
Your auditory system is as unique as your fingerprint. A specific tinnitus therapy technique could work for one and not for the other person. Also, it is important to understand that tinnitus is a symptom and not a disease hence different management techniques might work for different people (Disclaimer: Please note that the tinnitus management techniques provided in this article are based on the professional and academic knowledge of the author and by no means should be used without prior consultation with a qualified physician or audiologist.)
Effective Tinnitus Therapy Methods
Over decades of tinnitus therapy, the medical community found the following tinnitus management therapies effective on a or a group of patients.
1 - Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
The goal of Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is to retrain or condition the brain so that it doesn’t react as strongly to the ringing in your ears. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy could include extensive sound therapy often led by a professional tinnitus practitioner. The therapy is based on the idea that after some time, our brain will get used to or conditioned to the new sound and stop paying attention to it.
2 - Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Or CBT For Tinnitus
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy consists of two aspects of human functions.
Definition of cognitive (As per Merriam-Webster Dictionary) Of, relating to, being, or involving conscious intellectual activity (such as thinking, reasoning, or remembering)
Definition of behavioural (As per Merriam-Webster Dictionary) Relating to or concerned with the social, psychological, and emotional factors.
Tinnitus could bring back the feelings the patient experienced in tough moments of his or her life. It could put pressure on patient's cognitive strength. Through CBT the practitioner could try to decouple the sound of the tinitus from those painful feelings. The therapist identifies the negative and detrimental thoughts which increase anxiety and depression. And replaces them with positive and more realistic thoughts. That helps us to face tinnitus and handle the situation better.
3 - Sound Therapy For Tinnitus (Masking)
Although tinnitus is the perception of an internal sound, its impact can be masked (better say suppressed) by the presence of an external sound. Presence of other sound around the patient would destract the brain away from the tinnitus and this simply reduces the annoyance of the tinnitus. White, pink, and brown noise are what are usually tried to see which would provide a better masking effect to the patient. Many patients prefer the sound of nature as a source for their sound therapy. Some of the nature sounds that are widely popular include the sound of rain, sound of waves, underwater sound, beach sound, and rainforest and birds sound. The masking sound could be played through a home stereo, wireless speaker, headphone or bluetooth streaming hearing aids. Most of the hearing aids manufacturers have tinnitus masking into their hearing aids App that the audiologist can set up and adjust for the patient.
4 - Hearing Aids
In 80% of the cases, tinitus is a symptom of a damage to the hair cells. The damage could be due to listening to loud music once or for a long time, excessive environmntal noise, that in any case results in hearing loss. The amplification provided by the hearing aids would make other sounds around the patient more hearable and in a relative term make the tinnitus sound less noticeable for the wearer. One of the first things that I suggest to the patients with tinnitus is to make sure that they do a quick online hearing test to see if their tinnitus is associated to a hearing loss or not.
5 - Notch Therapy For Reducing Tinnitus
If the tinnitus is tonal, meaning it feels like a high pitch sound all the time, then notch therapy may be able to help alleviate your tinnitus. Notch Therapy is a relatively new technique and only few hearing aid providers have developped the technique into the algorythm of their hearing aids.
While the hearing aids are in your ears the audiologist will play a tone and ask you to confirm if the sound you hear is the same frequency as your tinnitus. You may be asked to chose between sound A and sound B to narrow down the frequency of your tinnitus. The same will be done with the amplitude (intensity) of your tinnitus sound. Your tinnitus could be different in frequency and intensity between your left and right ear. After this stage the notch hrapy is enabled on your hearing aids. You will be asked to report pack to the clinic in 2-3 month periods. When notch therapy is activated the algorythm of the hearing aid will treat its amplification at the frequency of your tinnitus differentyly considering that your brain hears the sound of the tinnitus at that certain frequency. In simple words the notch therapy intend to restructure the acoustic map of your auditory cortex by taking the advantage of the plasticity of your brain.
The effectiveness of the notch therapy is still the subject of several research teams and certainly is not always 100% successful.
6 - Cervical Movements And Muscle Contractions
This method is very effective in reducing tinnitus in the case of cervical tinnitus. Cervical movements and muscle contractions of the neck give relief. The movement should normalize cervical spine mobility. Stretching the tense muscles of the neck also reduces this type of tinnitus. Please make sure to consult with your GP prior to planning for massage therapy for this type of tinnitus.
7 - Medications For Tinnitus
There is no medication cure for tinnitus, however doctors could recommend symptomatic treatment. Tinnitus is a symptom and not a disease, so your doctor could prescribe medicine to reduce what triggers tinnitus. Anxiety, depression, and stress are common triggers.
As per the American Tinnitus Association, the following antianxiety and antidepressant drugs are commonly prescribed as medications for tinnitus.
Common antidepressant drugs used as a medication for tinnitus: