Can Tinnitus Be Cured?
Truth is, tinnitus can not be cured. But what if I told you that there was an 80% chance that your tinnitus could be treated and that you could live with less tinnitus (perhaps you might even be able to live a ‘ring-free’ life)?
Like most major medical conditions, i.e. cancer, heart disease, diabetes and so many other ailments that plague us as we age, tinnitus is treatable and manageable. Most patients that report hearing from their PCP “there is nothing that can be done about it, so deal with it”. This simply isn’t true. New treatment plan can effectively reduce (sometimes eliminate) the ringing in 8 out of 10 patients. These are extraordinary odds for such a devastating and mis-understood condition. This means less noise while you sleep, less noise when you work, less noise when you focus, less noise when spending time with others and less noise while living a more fulfilling life.
Tinnitus comes in many shapes in sizes. In fact, few can agree on how exactly to say it – some say tin-night-us and others say tin-knit-us. Either is correct.
Some patients report hearing ringing, some hear buzzing, some hear chirping (like crickets), some people hear whooshing (like the sound from a shell on the beach) and others hear sounds that ‘pulsate’. While some people will say they hear these sounds in their ears, others report hearing the sounds ‘somewhere in the middle of their head’. Regardless of how you say it, what is sounds like or where you hear it, the devastating impact this condition has on a person’s life is real and undeniable. Even those patients who only hear the ringing ‘sometimes’, know that as they age the disorder will progress and will eventually be heard all the time!
50 million Americans suffer with tinnitus, and it is estimated that the vast majority (greater than 90%!) of these cases are caused by damage to the auditory system. For some tinnitus accompanies hearing loss. For others, tinnitus is the first sign of hearing loss – meaning that many patients will complain of tinnitus before ever noticing hearing loss. Many patients will say ‘My ears are ringing, but I hear just fine!’. Truth is, for most of these patients, their tinnitus is the internal alarm telling alerting them that the ears and auditory system are damaged. Consider the ringing an ‘early detection alarm’ and the body’s way of telling you ‘something is wrong!’.
“My hearing has always been really good, but I noticed in the past year, maybe even two, that I had a touch of ringing and whooshing in my ears (it’s really hard for me to explain it). When I read up on tinnitus I knew I didn’t want it to develop in to something bad in my brain. After about a month and a half of treatment my tinnitus has calmed down and I think its because I caught it early instead of waiting until it was more severe.” Colleen G.
What causes Tinnitus?
For over 30 years tinnitus has been studied in nearly every mammal, using nearly every scientific tool possible, and once functional brain scanning became available the root cause of tinnitus for the majority was uncovered. As you lose the nerves that connect the ear to the brain, or these connections become damaged, the brain will accommodate for these missing / damaged connections; in turn you will perceive sound (aka tinnitus). This phenomenon, i.e. the brain accommodating for damaged neural signals, is often referred to as ‘central gain’; meaning the brain (central) will increase neural activity (gain) to make up for the lost neural signals. In this case, because the damage is to the auditory system, the brain will perceive sound – most often described as a ringing, buzzing, chirping, whooshing, etc.
This phenomenon of ‘central gain’ is not unique to the auditory system. In fact, the principles of central gain have been known for centuries effecting people who lose an arm or a leg. This experience of ‘Phantom Limb’ (also referred to as ‘Phantom Limb Pain’) is the result of lost or damaged nerves that connect the limb to the brain. In these patients, they will often experience sensation, sometimes even extreme pain, in the missing limb. At first glance, this does not make much neurological sense as the limb is missing – therefore how can it be felt and how can it be in pain? But when you dig deeper, what is happening in these patients is that the brain is accommodating for the missing input for the limb and falsely perceiving sensation of, and sometimes pain in, the limb. Tinnitus is appropriately defined as ‘phantom sounds in the ear and/or head’ and is also the result of the brain making up for missing input.
How To Treat Tinnitus.
The most straightforward answer is sometimes the hardest to find when seeking relief from tinnitus. If you suffer with tinnitus, you have no doubt heard about magic pills that eliminate the ringing. Perhaps you have been told by some to just deal with it and sleep with a fan on to ignore it. Even worse, you may have been told there is nothing that can be done for you!’.
The approach to treating tinnitus is very logical:
If you activate the damaged nerves that connect the ear to the brain, the ‘central gain’ will decrease, ergo you will perceive less tinnitus.
This direct treatment of tinnitus is both F.D.A. approved and effective in nearly 80% of patients. Recent reports that investigated the impact of treatment on sleep, concentration, work, and when hearing others in a conversation have all noted dramatic reductions of the impact of tinnitus on everyday life.
Once your hearing healthcare specialist has a full understanding of your tinnitus and has gone through the rigorous diagnostic process to determine the root cause, custom prescribed NeuroTechnology™ can be your best way to live a life free of the ringing that plagues you! These advanced hearing aids are designed to treat the cognitive aspects of hearing loss, including tinnitus, by providing auditory stimulation to the ears and brain. By replacing the ‘broken’ neural system with correct (and targeted) sound stimulation, the brain may reduce its ‘central gain’ thereby reduce the experience of tinnitus. These devices are also capable of adapting to your environment and able to provide necessary stimulation patterns that can enhance sounds that replace the ringing.
What is important for every patient to understand is that tinnitus is not curable and that treating tinnitus can take time. I can tell you from over 20 years of personal experience in treating patients with tinnitus that you may notice relief from tinnitus in 3 seconds or it can take up to 18 months. Although there is no exact science to understanding how long it will take to notice an improvement or why some patients notice relief faster than others; the general rule of thumb is: the longer you have had the tinnitus, the longer it may take to manage it. Which is why early treatment is so important.
Now that I am treating my tinnitus, what else can I do?
PLEASE NOTE – THE TECHNIQUES BEING OFFERED IN THIS SECTION ARE MEANT TO ENHANCE THE EFFECTIVENESS OF TREATMENT; NOT TAKE THE PLACE OF TRATMENT.
Once you have started direct treatment of your tinnitus and are under the care of a hearing healthcare specialist, it is important to discuss both 1. lifestyle factors that can trigger a relapse of tinnitus, and 2. additional care to further manage your tinnitus.
Avoiding Tinnitus Triggers:
For many patients undergoing treatment, the ringing can be virtually undetectable until a certain ‘trigger’ ramps up the volume of the sound. Below is a list of the most common triggers patient’s report as influencing their tinnitus:
– Loud noise! This applies to everybody, even those without tinnitus, avoid loud sounds at all costs! The use of power tools, guns, motorcycles, noisy vacuum cleaners, and even a night out a a loud restaurant or banquet can trigger the ringing. Fortunately, most technology used to treat tinnitus and hearing loss can filter out a portion of background noise – but when necessary, hearing protection can go a long way to avoiding the ringing!
– Alcohol and caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate and some cola drinks) can also trigger tinnitus. Like most things in life, nothing is that bad for you in moderation; however, too much can have the adverse side effect of tinnitus. Caffeine, a nervous system stimulant, can easily ramp up neural activity and lead to the brain’s perception of sound.
– Nicotine has a direct effect on our vascular system and can influence blood flow to the ears – which can cause tinnitus.
– Aspirin, quinine, some antibiotics and hundreds of other drugs are causative tinnitus agents and can make existing tinnitus worse.
– Stress – managing stress is certainly easier said than done for most of us, but that doesn’t take away the importance of learning how to manage and reduce our stress that can lead to spikes in tinnitus.
Additional Treatment Providers
As the treatment plan progresses, your hearing healthcare specialist may recommend additional care to enhance the effectiveness of treatment. As an example, you may be referred to a Nutritionist to better understand how diet is impacting your tinnitus. There is empirical data indicating that vitamins used to treat deficiencies may further reduce the ringing. For those patients who are struggling to manage stress in their lives, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most effective supplement to directly treating hearing loss. Understanding how the mind works and learning to find inner peace can only yield all-around positive results! Chiropractic care, Neurotology (aka ENT Doctors), Herbalist, Physical Therapist and Massage Therapist are all common referrals for people living with ailments that contribute to, or exacerbate, the experience of tinnitus. As always, be sure to inform your team of medical clinicians when seeking additional treatments.