Tinnitus affects 50 million Americans. But do we even know what it is and why we can’t stop it? What causes this mystery ringing, and why isn’t there a tinnitus cure?
This article examines the existing treatments for tinnitus and why they might contribute to why we don’t have a cure for this nagging ailment. Continue reading to learn what tinnitus is, the various treatments for tinnitus, and what efforts are on the horizon for how to stop the infamous ringing in the ears.
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a symptom that presents itself as noise in someone’s ears without having a source. It can be a ringing, whooshing, or droning noise, and its causes are mostly unknown. Some doctors believe that these symptoms stem from neurological connection issues within the auditory complex.
While the cause for subjective tinnitus is unknown, doctors can typically trace objective tinnitus’s cause. If the patient has pulsatile tinnitus, a condition in which the patient hears a thumping noise, they may have issues with their blood vessels.
In some rare cases, patients might hear music. Cases such as these pose the question of whether tinnitus is a physiological or psychological condition. They make it more challenging to diagnose and devise a comprehensive treatment for the symptom.
Is There a Cure For Tinnitus?
People also have conflicting notions of whether tinnitus is a condition or a symptom. Some refer to tinnitus as a symptom because it can’t be traced to a specific origin. Others call it a condition. Regardless of this distinction, tinnitus isn’t a disease.
Many things trigger tinnitus, including temporary and permanent hearing loss, acoustic trauma, and some medication-types. Some disorders also cause tinnitus. Part of the reason why tinnitus has no cure is that it has so many causes.
Developing an effective drug that responds to all of the subtypes of tinnitus is challenging. It’s even more challenging because research and funding are lacking.
How Is Tinnitus Diagnosed?
If you’re having tinnitus symptoms, you can head to an ENT doctor or audiologist for a diagnosis. Audiologists can test your hearing using a soundproof room in which you wear headphones. Then they play sounds into one ear at a time, and you indicate when and where you hear the sound.
The audiologist then analyzes the data and rules possible tinnitus causes of tinnitus. In rare instances, tinnitus can be a tumor symptom, so if you have tinnitus symptoms, you need to get checked out by a doctor.
Doctors or audiologists might also test your movement. They will ask you to move your ears, eyes, clench your jaw, or move your extremities. They can better diagnose your condition using these testing methods.
What Can You Do For Tinnitus?
There is no cure for tinnitus. However, treatments exist that help you manage and cope with your symptoms. For example, hearing aids can help minimize your symptoms. Medication such as antianxiety drugs and anti-depressants can also help you manage the psychological stress emanating from your tinnitus symptoms.
Sound therapy is a treatment method that uses sound masking, distraction, habituation, and neuromodulation.
Masking therapy uses sounds to compete with the patient’s tinnitus noises. In these cases, doctors play sounds at loud enough volumes that cover the tinnitus noises. It is not considered a long-term solution to tinnitus because patients develop a tolerance and dependency. Distraction sound therapy uses sounds to distract the patient from the tinnitus noises they hear. It is also not an ideal long-term treatment for tinnitus.
Habituation and neuromodulation sound therapy are more effective treatment forms than masking and distraction. Habituation sound therapy gets the patient comfortable with their tinnitus, while neuromodulation aims to change the patient’s neurological relationship with sound.
TRT Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) is the most advanced treatment method available for tinnitus patients. It combines sound therapies such as habituation and neuromodulation with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a psychological treatment that reduces stress caused by tinnitus. It works to bring the patient’s fears and discomfort to the surface and force them to familiarize themselves with their symptoms.
How Effective Are Current Tinnitus Treatments?
Many treatments have gone to trial, but very little provide conclusive evidence as to their efficacy. The most promising results come from treatments that use a combination of psychological therapies with sound therapies.
However, most treatment methods, such as distraction and masking sound therapy, merely disguise the daily occurrences of tinnitus symptoms. They don’t generate lasting effects. Even CBT and TRT fail to address many underlying tinnitus causes or provide a curative solution. They attempt to reduce patient distress. So, when answering the question of tinnitus treatment efficacy, perhaps it’s best to define what you mean by a tinnitus “cure.”
If you mean to ask how effective current treatment methods are against tinnitus symptoms, the answer is minimal. If you mean to ask whether these treatments help patients accept and deal with their tinnitus symptoms, the answer is more in the affirmative.
Are Patients Satisfied With Current Tinnitus Treatments?
For tinnitus’s prevalence, it’s shocking to note how little research examines whether tinnitus patients feel satisfied with treatment methods. Despite various studies examining patient perceptions towards general practitioner services, little research delves into patient voices regarding their treatment.
Recently, a US study addressed this by administering questionnaires to audiologists and patients. The study examined 230 adults with tinnitus and 68 audiologists. It revealed surprising results about the disconnect between the two parties. The two parties had separate definitions for treatment success, and 82.6% of the patients said the healthcare providers’ treatment was “not at all effective.”
Studies such as these identify the glaring need for reform within tinnitus treatment approaches.
How Do We Find a Cure For Tinnitus?
So, what does the future hold for tinnitus treatment, and how close are we to a cure for tinnitus? The biggest unknown to this equation comes from whether tinnitus patients are willing to receive novel treatments.
While innovative treatments are on the horizon, such as surgeries and implants, patients seem to prefer a “magic pill” of sorts. It’s unclear whether tinnitus patients would respond to more invasive cures. For now, tinnitus patients must settle for treatments that respond to their psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety rather than search for a miracle cure.