Is there a cure for tinnitus?
There is no cure, per se, for tinnitus in that there is no one magic pill that will make the millions of people with tinnitus no longer hear the noises in their ears and head. However, in some cases, tinnitus can be quieted. For example, some people have excessive earwax that blocks outside sound from coming in. When ear wax or any foreign object, such as a hair, touches the eardrum, tinnitus can be a result. By having a physician or audiologist remove the wax, the source of the tinnitus is also removed. Some people with severe hearing loss have found that a cochlear implant helps them hear the world around them, which in part makes the tinnitus in their heads much less noticeable. Neither of these examples is a hard and fast cure, but the examples do represent that relief is available and possible.
What kinds of treatments are available?
There are many treatments for tinnitus. You will want to talk with your doctor, audiologist, or other healthcare professional to find the best treatment for you. Because tinnitus is so individual, treatments work differently for different people.
- Alternative Treatments
Some people have taken minerals such as magnesium or zinc, herbal preparations such as Ginkgo biloba, homeopathic remedies, or B vitamins for their tinnitus and found them to be helpful. Others have experienced tinnitus relief with acupuncture, cranio-sacral therapy, magnets, hyperbaric oxygen, or hypnosis. A few of these therapies have been researched in an attempt to verify the anecdotal claims. But the results have not conclusively identified these treatments as helpful for tinnitus. Your doctor might give you clearance to try them for tinnitus anyway given that they generally carry little risk to health and some people find them helpful.
- Amplification (Hearing Aids)
Some tinnitus patients with hearing loss experience total or partial tinnitus relief while wearing hearing aids. There are many variables that determine success. However, if a patient has a hearing loss in the frequency range of the tinnitus, hearing aids may bring back in the ambient sounds that naturally cover the tinnitus.
Biofeedback is a relaxation technique that teaches people to control certain autonomic body functions, such as pulse, muscle tension, and skin temperature. The goal of biofeedback is to help people manage stress in their lives not by reducing the stress but by changing the body’s reaction to it. Many people notice a reduction in their tinnitus when they are able to modify their reaction to the stress in their lives.
- Cochlear Implants/Electrical Stimulation
A cochlear implant has two components: 1) an electrode array that is threaded into the cochlea, and 2) a receiver that is implanted just beneath the skin behind the ear. The electrode array sends electrical sound signals from the ear to the brain. Because electrode implantation destroys whatever healthy hair cells were left inside the cochlea, these implants are prescribed to deaf or near-deaf patients only. In one study, half of those who had tinnitus before their cochlear implants experienced tinnitus relief after their cochlear implants.
Why do cochlear implants help tinnitus? There are two possible reasons: 1) The tinnitus might be masked by the ambient sounds that these devices bring back in. 2) The tinnitus might be suppressed by the electrical stimulation sent through the auditory nerve by the implant. Some forms of electrical stimulation to the ear can stop tinnitus briefly.
- Cognitive Therapy
Cognitive therapy is a type of counseling that is based on treating a patient’s emotional reaction to tinnitus rather than the tinnitus itself. To accomplish this desired change in perception, a counselor will help the patient identify negative behaviors and thought patterns, then alter them. Counseling programs are individually designed for patients and are most effective when coupled with other tinnitus treatments, such as masking or medication.
- Drug Therapy
Many drugs have been researched and used to relieve tinnitus, but there is not a drug that has been designed specifically to treat tinnitus. Some drugs that have been studied include anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax, antidepressants like nortriptyline, antihistamines, anticonvulsants like gabapentin, and even anesthetics like lidocaine. All successfully quieted tinnitus for some people.
- Sound Therapy
Various treatment strategies use sound to decrease the loudness or prominence of tinnitus. Sound therapies include both wearable (hearing aid-like devices) and non-wearable devices (such as table-top sound machines or even a whirring fan). Often, sound is used to completely or partially cover the tinnitus. Some people refer to this covering of sound as masking. Sound therapies should always be combined with counseling.
- TMJ Treatment
Tinnitus can be a symptom of a jaw joint (temporomandibular joint, or TMJ) dysfunction. This can happen because muscles and nerves in the jaw are closely connected to those in the ear and, under the right circumstances, can interfere with the ear’s nerves. Dental treatment or bite realignment can help relieve TMJ pain and associated tinnitus. See your dentist if you think you have this problem.
What’s the difference between masking and TRT?
Masking and TRT (tinnitus retraining therapy) are similar in many ways. Both treatments introduce sounds to patients. In-the-ear maskers emit sounds that either partially or completely cover the sounds of tinnitus. TRT sound generators, also worn in the ear, emit a much quieter sound that allows the tinnitus to still be heard. Maskers are meant to provide immediate relief from the perception of tinnitus. TRT and its use of sound generators are accompanied by a specific kind of counseling called “directive counseling”; the combination is intended to retrain the brain to no longer notice the tinnitus signal. Unlike the immediate effectiveness of masking, TRT can sometimes take as long as two years to be achieved.
What is residual inhibition?
Residual inhibition is the temporary suppression of tinnitus after someone who uses a masker turns the masker off. Sometimes, someone may have a masker in, wear it for a little while, and then turn it off to find out that his tinnitus is either reduced or totally absent. The time period of this cessation of tinnitus after masking can vary from a few minutes to a few days. People who experience residual inhibition must have tinnitus that can be masked — i.e., a masker must be a viable treatment for your tinnitus.
What kinds of drugs are available to treat tinnitus?
There is no drug on the market designed specifically for tinnitus treatment. There are, however, several medications that have provided many tinnitus patients with relief. But they are not without their own caveats. For example, some medications that can help tinnitus are also habit forming and should only be used when under the care of a physician who understands tinnitus.
What kind of alternative treatments could I try?
Again, ATA does not recommend any specific treatment for tinnitus management. This is for you and your health care provider to determine. Many of these treatments are considered controversial because there is too little research on them showing overwhelmingly positive results.
Still, some people with tinnitus report that these alternative therapies work.