If you have ever experienced tinnitus — the perception of a sound when none is present — you fully understand the frustration and debilitating distraction that this ailment can cause. Tinnitus is often thought of as loud ringing in the ear, though it may present as a clicking, roaring, or hissing in some cases, and can be soft or loud, low or high-pitched. It can be persistent or short-lived, gradual, or sudden. Noise-induced hearing loss is a common source for tinnitus, though there are many other causes. In essence, tinnitus comes in many forms and there are many questions surrounding it.
Two things we do know though:
- Tinnitus is not an illness but a symptom of a problem.
- The primary objective for tinnitus treatment is to reduce the omnipresence, intensity, and burden of tinnitus to allow for more comfort and normality in patients’ lives.
Tinnitus can be diagnosed and tested in various ways. There are audiological exams, where you report when you can hear a noise, movement tests which include jaw clenching and limb movement, and potentially imaging such as CT or MRI scans.
These tests can help identify the cause of tinnitus, which include muscle tension, vascular issues, high blood pressure, and excessive noise exposure.
Though there are no clinical cures for tinnitus, there is ongoing research, and progress is being made towards a scientifically proven remedy. Though some patients may be skeptical of treatments that do not repair nor eliminate the underlying signals or causes for the problem, treatments are meant to address the emotional, attentional, and cognitive impacts of the ailment. So, until there is a cure there are many treatments for tinnitus that may allow for increased quality of life and comfort for those suffering from this malady.
No two patients or cases are alike, so treatment will look different for every patient depending on severity, cause, and other factors. Successful management may require overlapping layers of tactics, and it is best to consult our physician to find the best strategy for you.
Though general wellness does not impact the biology of tinnitus, it has many benefits that will peripherally affect the impact that tinnitus has on your day to day life. A healthy diet can decrease hypertension, improve energy levels, and increase blood flow, all to positive effect.
Though there are no foods proven to cure tinnitus when included or excluded from a diet, there may are some foods to pay attention to to assess the effect on your own symptoms. A low-salt diet, for example, has been shown to be connected with improvement in other related illnesses, like Meniere’s disease, an inner-ear ailment that causes dizziness and is known to correlate with tinnitus.
Caffeine is another diet-related issue that gets attention in this tinnitus discussion. Currently, there is no scientific research that proves caffeine increases tinnitus symptoms. However, it would behoove to keep track of your own caffeine consumption and symptoms and make adjustments as you see fit. After tracking, you may find that caffeine seems to significantly worsen your tinnitus symptoms, in which case you should consider stopping or reducing our intake. You may also find that it has no impact, or that it is a significant and enjoyable part of your day, in which case it might make sense to continue this habit. In general when evaluating your diet, this tracking and assessment system works well.
Exercise is another part of general wellness that can help tinnitus symptoms by reducing stress. As stress is known to exacerbate tinnitus and so emotional well-being is an integral part of any treatment regimen.
Hobbies and social activity can also help bolster emotional well-being. Unfortunately, people suffering from tinnitus often deal with social isolation because of difficulty with communication, and aural sensitivity. That can cause a negative spiral of isolation which can further a patient’s focus on their tinnitus pain. Social and recreational activities, on the other hand, can help distract from tinnitus symptoms while also building a peer support network. Some hobbies may even mask the sounds of tinnitus, like the wind rush of bike-riding.
There are also some underlying health conditions that your doctor may be able to treat relatively easily to relieve some tinnitus pain. These include, removing impacted ear wax, treating vascular conditions, and assessing your medication regimen.
Beyond general wellness, hearing aids are the obvious next step to dealing with tinnitus. Hearing loss, which is a common cause of tinnitus, changes the way your brain processes sound frequencies. Hearing aids amplify outside sounds using a microphone, and speaker. With increased volume of external sound, you may start to notice your tinnitus symptoms less. Hearing aids can be used to amplify, counteract, or modify external sound, therefore significantly helping with tinnitus symptoms. Studies have shown that about 60% of people experienced some relief from the use of a hearing aid.
The obvious use for hearing aids is to amplify external noise. This helps because hearing loss causes less external sounds to reach the brain, potentially causing the brain to maladapt to these changes resulting in tinnitus. Hearing aids can help correct for this change, by increasing auditory stimulation and reducing the perception of the tinnitus itself.
Success depends on how well the hearing aid can blend background noise with the tinnitus sound. At the volume of the tinnitus or louder is usually preferred. External sound-machines work for this purpose as well. Many new hearing aids also include additional ambient and white noise effects to cover the perception of tinnitus. These can be especially helpful if the hearing aids are set to the same frequency range as the tinnitus, therefore counteracting the noise. Customized sound machines, worn intermittently, can achieve this purpose and provide relief for hours after they are worn and provide potentially long-term benefits.
It is important to note, hearing aids are most effective when worn regularly day-to-day, which requires dedication from the wearer. The relief that may come from hearing aids, along with a routine for health and social well-being, is well worth this commitment.