Treatment and Relief
Effectively Treat Tinnitus
Tinnitus is an unwanted sound often described as ringing, clicking, or chirping in the ears. The cause of this sound is your hearing nerve communicating sound to your brain even though there is no “actual” sound present. The cause of this ringing varies widely, it can be caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise, hearing loss, medications, diet, and even stress. To effectively deal with tinnitus we need pinpoint how the brain is dealing with this annoying sound, and find the method that best suits you to treat it.
ANXIETY AND THE LIMBIC SYSTEM
The limbic system controls stress, anxiety, blood pressure, and other related functions. When an unexpected stimulus presents itself, the limbic system’s job is to prepare you for what is to come. When you’re driving and notice a police officer on the side of the road holding with a speed radar, you naturally tense up, that is your limbic system responding to the sudden stress you felt. If you can imagine feeling that tense constantly, you can begin to gain a better understanding of what many people who suffer from tinnitus deal with every day.
There’s a foreign ringing sound that presents itself, and because it’s out of the ordinary, you focus on it. Once you focus on the ringing, it begins to sound more prominent and therefore draws your attention even more. The increased attention only reinforces the annoying character of the sound and makes it more difficult to get past. This is what we at Eldorado Audiology and Hearing Center of Santa Fe refer to as a self-reinforcing cycle of tinnitus. Such a cycle can interfere with your day to day activities, become a cause of repeated anxiety, and is an overall annoyance. Our main focus for this type of tinnitus is finding what breaking this cycle in your particular case.
The oldest and simplest way of dealing with tinnitus is to cover it up with another sound. Generally, white or pink noise is used to overshadow the tinnitus and emits a pleasant static in the background. In recent years tinnitus masking has been built into hearing aids so that those with hearing loss and tinnitus can treat both at once. You also have the option of turning off the hearing aid microphones, which turns them into tinnitus maskers that are tiny, portable, and can be worn all day long without interfering with your ability to hear other sounds in the environment.
TINNITUS RETRAINING THERAPY (TRT)
While maskers work well, they do not address the limbic system and, therefore, do not change your response to tinnitus when it is present. Tinnitus retraining therapy is an approach that uses sound to retrain the limbic system’s response to tinnitus sounds, making tinnitus much easier to live with and restoring a sense of normalcy. The general approach is to play a relaxing sound such as ocean noise, baroque music, or anything you may find pleasant and relaxing. Play the sound at a volume that does not quite cover up the tinnitus, this way you are hearing both sounds at the same time. This causes the limbic system to relaxes from the pleasant stimulus, and because you can hear the tinnitus while this is happening, teaches the limbic system to stay relaxed when tinnitus is present. This process can vary in length from a few weeks to several months, and even for some years, however, most people that have tried TRT in any of its various forms have found it to be very effective.
Originally, TRT was only available with a separate iPod-like device to play sounds that were shaped to relax the limbic system without covering tinnitus, but in recent years the devices involved have become smaller and much more convenient. Widex, a Danish hearing aid manufacturer, recently released Zen, a TRT-based program that plays sounds they developed through their research that is built into the hearing aids and can be turned on or off as needed with a button or remote control. Hearing aids from other manufacturers can play TRT-based sounds through free or paid smartphone apps via Bluetooth streaming.