Why Is There No Cure for Tinnitus?



Tinnitus is characterized by sounds heard in the ears or perceived in the head that is not coming from the environment. For many people, it is a low-level noise that they can ignore and or is only noticed during very quiet moments such as at bedtime. However, it can prove to be bothersome for some individuals, impacting their quality of life, causing communication problems, concentration difficulties, sleep disturbance, anxiety, irritability, and depression. Non-bothersome chronic tinnitus does not require any treatment, but if your tinnitus is bothersome or debilitating, consult your audiologist. There is currently no cure for tinnitus, but it can be effectively managed with hearing aids, behavioral therapy and/or sound therapy depending on the individual.

The Reason Why There Is No Cure for Tinnitus

Tinnitus is not a condition but a symptom. Persistent or constant tinnitus usually indicates damage to the peripheral auditory system. The damage can be caused by noise exposure, ototoxic medications, or the existence of other health conditions. The damage results in instability of the sensorineural auditory pathway which produces a phantom signal that the brain interprets as sound. If the underlying medical condition that is causing the tinnitus is treated, such as removal of impacting earwax, the tinnitus could go away completely. But many times, the damage to the auditory system is permanent and irreversible, such as with excessive noise exposure, and therefore the tinnitus persists.

Your audiologist will perform a thorough case history, an audiological exam, and tinnitus assessment to determine the best course of action to help mitigate the effects of the tinnitus.

Does Tinnitus Ever Go Away?

Tinnitus that occur spontaneously and goes away after a few seconds is actually a normal phenomenon. For some people, tinnitus is temporary and is associated with a specific event. With temporary tinnitus it disappears once the underlying cause, such as ear infection or earwax impaction, is treated. However, for others, it can be permanent such as with excessive noise exposure. Individuals with constant bothersome tinnitus can get relief through various therapies. Cognitive behavioral therapy is aimed at helping you develop a new and more resilient relationship with your thoughts and emotions to reduce the distress caused by the tinnitus. Sound-based therapies involve training your brain to ignore the tinnitus, making it less bothersome.

Will a Cure for Tinnitus Ever Be Found?

Researchers from the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and the Veterans Affairs (VA) Portland Medical Center are working on a new tinnitus treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS, previously used to treat depression, is being used in clinical trials for treating tinnitus.

The research is still in progress, and so far, the treatment has produced fair results with no adverse effects. As of now, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved TMS for treating depression. However, researchers are happy with the TMS results for tinnitus treatment and are likely to conduct more clinical trials. Hopefully, we can expect various forms of tinnitus treatment in the future (read on).

Is There Any Hope for Tinnitus Sufferers?

Yes, there is hope for tinnitus patients, as many tinnitus treatment therapies are being researched and tested, including:

  • Drug Therapy – Although there is currently no FDA-approved drug for tinnitus, drugs are actively being tested in clinical trials. One of which is OTO-313 developed by biopharmaceutical company Otonomy. Find out more about the OTO-313 clinical trials on the website clinicaltrials.gov.
  • Electromagnetic Treatments – Though initially developed to treat Parkinson’s disease, these treatments may help to mitigate tinnitus symptoms. Strong electromagnetic stimulation is known to reduce neural activity and may be helpful in reducing the perception of tinnitus which is believed to be caused by hyperactivity of the auditory neurological system.
  • Light Therapy – It is used to treat depression, psoriasis, and acne, but now is also being tested as a treatment for tinnitus. Light therapy involves low-level laser therapy and colored light therapy.

How Can You Manage Tinnitus?

While safe and effective treatments are still being developed, some tinnitus management strategies have proven to be successful, which include:

  • Hearing Aids: If the tinnitus is a symptom of hearing loss, the use of hearing aids to treat the hearing loss can be effective in reducing the tinnitus in majority of the cases. The prescribed amplification needed to correct for the hearing loss often results in improved hearing of environmental sounds which also can reduce the loudness of the tinnitus. Some hearing aids also come with a sound generator option that can be configured to either mask the tinnitus or provide a more pleasant sound to distract mental focus away from the tinnitus.

  • Other sound-based therapies: White noise machines (sound machines) are often recommended for people whose tinnitus tends to worsen at night. These machines produce noise with various characteristics that can help reduce the annoyance of the tinnitus. The sound of radio, TV, music, audiobooks, or environmental noises is readily available and free. Just about any sound can be used to soothe, distract or provide background noise to help one manage the tinnitus. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is aimed at helping the individual habituate to the tinnitus by the use of directive counseling and sound enrichment through hearing aids and/or sound generators. The counseling component helps the patient reclassify the perceived sound of the tinnitus into an emotionally neutral one.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Therapy: These behavioral therapies in tinnitus management focus on neutralizing the negative emotions and reactions (that is, the annoyance) of tinnitus and help the tinnitus sufferer develop personal coping strategies to solve the problems caused by the tinnitus. These therapies are provided through a limited amount of sessions with a mental health specialist. A large body of research supports the efficacy of behavioral therapies in tinnitus management.

Schedule an appointment with our audiologist, Dr. Chris Hoffmann, if you are looking for tinnitus therapy near you.


image

Chris Lin Hoffmann

Dr. Chris Hoffmann is an audiologist who has been involved in hearing sciences for over 20 years. Her passion for helping people with their hearing led her to establish Hoffmann Audiology hearing clinic. Dr. Hoffmann has more than 14 years of clinical knowledge in hearing testing, hearing aid fittings, and aural rehabilitation.