Medical research on tinnitus and other hearing-related conditions gives us hope that a cure is in sight, with some experts even predicting a cure available as soon as 2020. However, it is generally agreed that one specific single cure will not work across the entire population of sufferers, because with tinnitus there are typically other underlying issues, such as some degree of hearing loss. Therefore, various combinations of tinnitus treatment, performed multiple times, will be needed for individual patients based on their own issues and symptoms. You simply can’t just use hearing aids for everyone suffering from hearing loss. Simply knowing better and more effective treatments—and indeed a possible cure—are on the horizon can be a great comfort to those who battle the burdensome effects of tinnitus on a daily basis.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a ringing or pulsing in the ears, which can be triggered by a variety of factors. In some cases, it simply appears to happen with the natural process of aging, and it can also be attributed to overexposure to loud noise. (Concertgoers, be warned!)
While ringing is the most common description of the sound, some sufferers may also experience a sort of hissing sound or even a clicking in the ear. In some cases, it is temporary and goes away on its own, but for others, it can be a chronic condition, which is extremely disruptive to daily life. The presence of tinnitus can sometimes lead to insomnia, depression, anxiety, and an overall increase in the stress level of tinnitus sufferers. Tinnitus that sounds like a heartbeat is one form that especially should not be ignored, as it may indicate some type of growth in the ear (a possible tumor) or a problem surfacing from a vein and artery that are abnormal in connection.
Millions of people will experience tinnitus at some point in their lives and it is often linked to some type of damage to the inner ear. The use of certain medications can exacerbate the effects of tinnitus. Aspirin, for example, when used in large doses, can make worsen the effects of tinnitus.
Only tinnitus sufferers hear the noise, making it difficult for others to understand just how frustrating and overwhelming it can be. While tinnitus itself is not a disease, it is a symptom that should not be ignored because it indicates an underlying problem.
Tinnitus can occur in a single ear or in both ears, and it can be intermittent or persistent and permanent. The volume of sounds associated with tinnitus can fluctuate, and it can often be worse at night or during other periods of quiet and rest.
In order to diagnose tinnitus and offer tinnitus treatment, your primary care doctor may perform a variety of tests and exam your ears, neck, and head to determine possible causes. An audiological exam as well as CT or MRI scans, and additional exams from specialists may be used to look for underlying causes that may trigger the tinnitus. Additionally, a physician may evaluate how a particular movement has an impact on tinnitus. For example, does the tinnitus worsen when you clench your jaw or move your neck a certain way?
What can be done to treat tinnitus and can it be prevented?
While tinnitus typically cannot be prevented, especially in the case of aging, there are numerous things you can do to reduce the effects of tinnitus once it occurs. The best relief may come with a combination of actions aimed at alleviating your tinnitus.
Treatments available from your doctor may include earwax removal, addressing a vascular condition that may be causing tinnitus or changing or removing medications that could be contributing to its presence.
Lifestyle changes may include the use of a white noise machine to help suppress the internal noise and abstaining from or reducing your exposure to things that can worsen tinnitus, such as
- loud noises
- and even some foods.
Additionally, alternative remedies are often sought by those suffering from tinnitus, including acupuncture, hypnosis, essential oils, and supplements.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive therapy that is used more commonly in Europe for treatment of tinnitus; there have also been limited trials in the United States.
Will there ever be a cure for tinnitus in 2020?
Horizon 2020, an EU initiative that focuses on world-class scientific research and innovation, has backed more than 40 Ph.D. candidates throughout Europe to support their research on tinnitus and efforts to find a cure. The initial funding of €10.3 million will go toward research to find a cure, and this news brings great hope to millions who face tinnitus throughout their lives. A network of academic institutions and hospitals will work cooperatively to seek out new treatments and a possible cure.
This funding has called attention to the fact that while tinnitus research has been ongoing for years, it has been backed by little investment. This is a promising step, with an increase in pharmaceutical companies now focusing on inner ear disorders as well.
Today, there is no one medication known as a cure for tinnitus but the hope remains that by 2020 there may be a medical innovation to treat the condition. In the United States, Action on Hearing Loss continues to perform biomedical research as well. In addition to drug trials underway, there are also acoustic stimulation treatments on the horizon and it remains possible that a combination of both drugs and various therapies could work together to cure tinnitus once and for all.