According to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), ringing in your ears can be related to a number of conditions that occur in the auditory system, including earwax, ear infections, otosclerosis, vascular problems and circulatory disorders, and most often, noise-induced hearing loss.
Tinnitus is so common, that nearly 25 million Americans report some level of tinnitus disturbance. That makes tinnitus one of the most common health conditions in the U.S. While many people can tune their tinnitus out, roughly 5 million struggle with burdensome chronic tinnitus and 2 million find it debilitating.
What’s so disturbing about tinnitus?
The ATA defines tinnitus as the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present. People experience a wide range of perceptions, but most describe it as a buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, clicking or chirping that only they can hear. In some cases, tinnitus is temporary, but for others, it is an ongoing problem that disrupts their lives.
If you’re someone who suffers with chronic tinnitus and you’ve searched online for treatments or answers to the problem, you also have probably been “served” ads promoting tinnitus cures and pills.
Unfortunately, many people are desperate for help and fall prey to these promotions, wasting their valuable time and money.
What can I do about tinnitus?
The truth is there are no FDA-approved drugs currently approved to treat tinnitus. Pharmacological medications may help with other issues many tinnitus sufferers also have, such as anxiety or depression, but these medications also could make the individual’s tinnitus worse. Patients should consult their healthcare providers for guidance on medications that may be appropriate for their situation before starting any medication regimen.
In addition, no dietary supplement has been proven to “cure” tinnitus, but they are often touted as such. Beware of any supplement that is promoted as a “natural” cure for tinnitus.
Supplements might include vitamins, minerals, herbs or other substances and according to the National Institutes of Health are taken by about 40 percent of all Americans. A recent online survey of 1,788 people with tinnitus from 53 countries found 23 percent reported using dietary supplements to treat tinnitus.
The participants were taking all sorts of supplements, and the internet was the source most frequently used for purchasing them, even though they were considered ineffective.
Though there’s no “magic pill” for tinnitus, there are some effective treatment strategies that can be very helpful when prescribed by an audiologist.
An audiologist is a specialist in hearing and balance disorders who has earned either an Au.D. or a Ph.D., a doctoral-level degree in audiology. These specialists can evaluate an individual’s concerns regarding tinnitus, checking for possible underlying medical conditions.
Ninety percent of tinnitus patients also have some level of hearing loss, determined by a test called an audiogram. In fact, a comprehensive diagnostic hearing evaluation is the best place to start in diagnosing tinnitus and a possible hearing loss, as well as investigating other strategies to manage tinnitus symptoms.
Some of these strategies include:
Wearing hearing aids. Most people develop tinnitus as the result of some sort of hearing loss. Wearing hearing aids can augment the reception and perception of external noise and may provide relief from the internal sound of tinnitus. Some hearing aids also have features to help mask tinnitus. The masking impact of hearing aids is particularly strong for patients who have hearing loss in the same frequency range as their tinnitus.
Behavioral therapies, which focus on the patient’s emotional reaction to tinnitus, are among the best established and most effective treatments for burdensome tinnitus. These approaches have consistently been shown to reduce tinnitus-related distress, anxiety, and depression, and to improve the overall quality of life for patients. These therapies should be directed by a healthcare professional.
Healthy lifestyle changes also may help someone with tinnitus, especially when combined with these other recommendations. These types of changes might include meditation, journaling, concentration exercises, or establishing a healthy sleep environment, diet and exercise routine.
All audiologists with Associated Audiologists can help patients with tinnitus. In unique or special cases, our tinnitus specialist, Susan Smittkamp, Au.D., Ph.D., C.C.C.-A., Tinnitus and Sound Sensitivity manager, can provide additional support, resources and treatment.