What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a condition characterized by a persistent ringing, buzzing or humming in the ear, occurring without the presence of an external stimulus. In most instances, it is not a serious physical problem, although people suffering from the disorder often experience depression and anxiety. While the exact causes of tinnitus are unknown, many cases can be attributed to underlying health conditions, such as chronic ear infections, blocked auditory canals or long-term exposure to loud sounds. For cases such as these, antibiotics, ear-drops or irrigation of the ear canal may relieve the problem. In instances where the condition is not curable, treatment focuses instead on the day-to-day management of symptoms. Specialized clinics assist patients in understanding their condition, and guide them in choosing an appropriate tinnitus treatment. The following are several examples of treatments which have proven effective.
Because tinnitus is most noticeable in quiet environments, many people find that filling the silence with pleasurable sounds distracts from its associated noises. This is the idea behind sound therapy, one of the simplest forms of tinnitus treatment. For certain individuals, sound therapy simply involves leaving their television or radio on to provide background noise, while others choose sound generators. Tabletop generators are an excellent sleep and relaxation aid, and can be programmed to play various soothing sounds, such as rainfall or waves. Wearable sound generators are another option. These are small devices inserted into the ear canal which supply a continuous flow of soft, pleasurable sound to mask tinnitus.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy focusing on helping patients learn and use positive thinking skills to modify negative behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In general, people who suffer from tinnitus have a very limited knowledge of the condition, and often perceive it as a threat to their metal and physical well-being. They frequently complain of feeling irritated, sad, agitated or depressed. By changing their though patterns and beliefs about tinnitus, many people find CBT to be an effective tinnitus treatment.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)
Tinnitus retraining therapy is a form of habituation therapy combining counseling and sound therapy. TRT uses tinnitus retraining and sound enrichment to end negative reactions to the tinnitus sound. The ultimate goal of TRT is to teach patients to become less aware of the tinnus sound, eventually tuning it out completely. While the number of necessary TRT sessions varies from patient to patient, successful results require long-term commitment and effort on the part of the person being treated. Tinnitus retraining therapy should only be practiced by a therapist who has been sufficiently trained in the technique.
In addition to the therapies mentioned above, some people find success managing their tinnitus symptoms through a combination of self-help methods. For example, because anxiety exacerbates tinnitus symptoms, practicing yoga or other stress-relieving activities may provide a certain degree of relief. Listening to music or other calming sounds is also relaxing, and aids in falling sleep (see sound therapy above). To help drown out the ringing sound associated with tinnitus, white noise generators or tinnitus maskers are useful. Finally, for individuals suffering from hearing loss, hearing aids are an effective tool in managing tinnitus. Hearing aids work by amplifying sounds the individual may not have otherwise heard, thus overriding the tinnitus noise.
Although there is currently not a specific drug dedicated solely to tinnitus treatment, certain types of medications help manage symptoms. Anti-anxiety medication may relieve the stress and depression frequently associated with the condition, and has been shown to reduce tinnitus loudness. Studies also show that anti-convulsants and anti-histamines are somewhat effective, although their benefits are short-lived. Tinnitus research is on-going, and there is hope that one day an adequate medication will be available.
People suffering from tinnitus will benefit from counseling sessions with a qualified mental health practitioner. In addition to helping them learn to cope with their condition, many counseling programs educate people about the causes of their tinnitus. Discussing tinnitus and having a better understanding of the disorder often lessen the negative effects it has on patients. Some people also find sharing their experiences with each other at tinnitus support groups to be helpful.
Those interested in learning more about tinnitus treatment may do so by visiting the American Tinnitus Association website at www.ata.org.