Tinnitus is a noise generated within the ear that only you can hear (in extremely rare cases is it audible to another person). Tinnitus is actually a rather common occurrence. Occasional, brief bursts of ringing in the ear are completely normal. It’s like a muscle twitch that we get sometimes in our eyelid or a finger. It’s just a misfire of the nervous system in the ear. It is only when the tinnitus becomes constant that it becomes more of an issue.
In our previous blog, we discussed some tips for managing your tinnitus on your own. Now let’s talk about some of the recognized treatments for constant, problematic tinnitus. These treatments typically involve some sort of electronics or technology.
#1 Hearing Aid/Tinnitus Masker
Remember that hearing loss is the most common cause of tinnitus. If the cause of the tinnitus is a hearing loss, sometimes the simple act of wearing a hearing aid and receiving the missing sounds can make the tinnitus less noticeable while you have the hearing aids on. When hearing aids alone are not enough, most aids also include a tinnitus masker feature. A tinnitus masker is a type of noise that sounds like static. The Audiologist can program your aid with the noise that best allows you to “mask” or cancel out the tinnitus you hear. The premise is that the new noise is less bothersome than the tinnitus you hear. This only works as long as you are wearing the hearing aids. When the hearing aids come off, the tinnitus will become noticeable again.
#2 Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is a recognized treatment method based on habituation. It utilizes a combination of psychotherapy and tinnitus maskers. The tinnitus masker helps to draw your attention away from the tinnitus itself, while the psychotherapy aspect works at removing the negative perception of the tinnitus. The end result of the treatment is not that the tinnitus goes away, but that it is no longer bothersome. You become used to it so that it no longer has any negative perception to it and you can ignore it or tune it out. So the tinnitus is there, you just don’t care.
#3 Sound Habituation Apps
There are apps available for download to your cell phone or tablet to also help you manage your tinnitus. There are two different categories of apps. The first type is a noise generator to mask tinnitus. The app produces various types of noises and you select the one that best helps you to not hear the tinnitus. The second type of app is one designed to help you habituate to your tinnitus. It utilizes a filter that removes specific pitches from music. The pitches that are removed are those that are close in pitch to your tinnitus. You listen to music, either that you have downloaded or from an internet streaming source, that has those pitches removed. It is supposed to help you become more used to the sound and make it less noticeable. Most apps recommend that you use them at least 1 hour per day or overnight to be effective.
#4 Sound Machines
One of the most difficult times for people who have tinnitus is at night when they are trying to go to sleep. Tinnitus is most noticeable when it is quiet in your environment. It is helpful then to have some noise present to help distract you from the tinnitus. For some, a fan running in the room is enough white noise (static) to help, other people need something a little different. While a TV or radio is one option, they are not the best for everyone because they can become too attractive and actually draw your attention keeping you awake. Perhaps a better option is a sound machine, such as one that plays sounds like rainfall, ocean waves, or forest sounds. For those individuals who have significant others who don’t like noise when they sleep, you can also find this available in a sound pillow, where the speakers are in your pillow so you can keep the volume soft.
#5 Customized Tinnitus Sound Habituation Therapy
There are some Audiologists that specialize in Tinnitus Treatment. Many of these will perform a more in-depth examination of your tinnitus and perhaps prescribe a personal device that can be used to help habituate to your tinnitus. These devices may include custom-fitted earpieces and a tablet with a specialized program on it geared towards your particular tinnitus. These devices are typically worn while you are sleeping, but can also be used during waking hours to help you manage your tinnitus.
No matter what method you try, tinnitus is typically always a symptom of something else and you should always visit a physician when you have constant, problematic tinnitus. If constant tinnitus is a problem for you, call our office and schedule an appointment today.