1 in 5 Americans suffers from tinnitus, a ringing sound in the ears that varies in both intensity and duration. It may also be described as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, clicking or other sound. Tinnitus may be either persistent or intermittent. Some people find it a minor annoyance, while for others, it is a serious hindrance to their quality of life.
Tinnitus is a Symptom, Not a Disease
Many underlying health conditions cause tinnitus. These include aging, noise exposure, infections, allergies, diseases and ototoxic medications. Sometimes, the exact cause is impossible to determine.
Tinnitus is a symptom and not a disease.
Researchers are working to find a cure for tinnitus, but have so far been unsuccessful. Despite this, strategies are available for managing its symptoms and improving a patient’s quality of life.
Tinnitus Treatment Strategies
Because tinnitus varies considerably among individuals, there is no “one-size-fits-all” method of treatment. In rare instances, the symptoms disappear on their own. Other times, tinnitus is irreversible. Treating the underlying condition responsible for your symptoms is a great starting point. Your audiologist will help find a strategy best suited to your individual needs.
Many patients find success with masking techniques such as white noise therapy. These involve the introduction of soft sounds or musical patterns to distract your brain from the ringing or other noise associated with tinnitus. Electronic devices that generate white noise, a distribution of random sound frequencies, can be helpful. Running a fan, air conditioner or humidifier may also work, as can machines that produce nature sounds such as ocean waves or falling rain.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is an approach that involves a combination of counseling and sound therapy. Patients learn about tinnitus and are taught specific strategies for coping; they are also provided with low-level sound generators that produce soft tonal patterns that help the brain shift its focus away from the ringing in the ears.
Some patients find success with hearing aids. Simply turning the volume up can help mask the background distraction.
While there are no specific medications available to cure tinnitus, certain antibiotics have been shown to reduce symptoms. Natural remedies such as gingko biloba, zinc and niacin may prove helpful to some, though there is no empirical evidence to back this up.