It might be difficult for those who don’t suffer from this condition to understand just how bothersome tinnitus can be in real life. The easiest way to explain it is to compare the condition with that annoying song that you just cannot get out of your head. Now replace that song with a ringing, buzzing, roaring or hissing sound in your ear.
For the most part, whatever sound you hear is unique to you and may be temporary or permanent. This means that you can be hearing that hissing sound 24 hours a day for 365 days a year. You simply cannot make it stop, and in the most extreme of cases, you cannot function properly with it. It’s like having that neighbor who constantly blasts loud ear-grating music at all hours of the day making your life a living nightmare. Only this neighbor lives in your ears.
What is Tinnitus?
Not technically considered an illness, tinnitus is a constant ringing, swishing, buzzing, clicking and a host of other noises that seem to originate from within the ear as opposed to from an outside source. Tinnitus is considered a symptom of other conditions that may include:
- Hearing loss
- Loud noise exposure
- Ear infection
- Meniere’s disease
- Ear wax buildup
- Overactive thyroid
- Blood flow problems
- Ear trauma
- Certain medications
- Brain tumors or other tumors near the ear
The main symptom that often indicates tinnitus is the hearing of a sound unique to the patient. This sound is not due to an outside source but rather seems to emanate from within the patient’s ear or head. In the most common of cases, this noise is often described as a clicking, ringing, buzzing, hissing or rushing sound. There have been cases of hearing loss occurring especially if the tinnitus came about as a result of Meniere’s disease
The CDC says that about 15% of Americans suffer from one form of tinnitus or another. That means that a little over 50 million people hear ringing in their ears that no one else does. The thing about tinnitus is that no two patients are the same. Each condition is unique to the particular person suffering from it just as each sound is unique to that person as well.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus typically arises in any of the four sections that make up the hearing system. These include:
- The outer ear
- The middle ear
- The inner ear
The triggers that cause this condition differ greatly, but the one thing they have in common is the fact that they cause a change in the transmission of signals going from your ear to the part of your brain that is supposed to process sound (the auditory cortex).
What this means is that the auditory cortex develops some sort of malfunction and does not receive the signals the way it used to. In some patients, it reacts by creating spontaneous chatter which then create the illusion of sound. With time, this spontaneous chatter gets stronger and becomes a constant, ever-present sound.
There are some factors associated with the cause of tinnitus or at least; those factors put you at a higher risk of developing tinnitus. The factors include:
- Exposure to loud noises: This has never been good for anyone’s hearing. Exposure to loud noises is one of the most common causes of all types of hearing loss. Even just one incident of very loud noise at close proximity to the ear may cause irreparable damage.
- Hearing loss: Tinnitus tends to bring with it some degree of hearing loss. However, not every tinnitus patient suffers this kind of hearing loss. In fact, one in every three tinnitus patients do not suffer hearing loss.
- Head or ear injuries: Head or neck injuries tend to be the cause of tinnitus in more than one in every ten patients.
- Ear infection or disease: There are several ear infections or diseases that tend to occur in otherwise healthy individuals. Any one of these infections can lead to the development of tinnitus.
- Emotional stress: Stress tends to lead to more severe cases of tinnitus.
- Medication: This is why it is important to take note of the kind of side effects each drug you take has in the long run. Some medication, even prescription drugs, can lead to the development of tinnitus. In fact, there are about 200 prescription and non-prescription drugs that cite tinnitus as a possible side effect.
- Meniere’s disease: The symptoms associated with this disease include dizziness, fullness in the ear, hearing loss and tinnitus. However, the symptoms tend to go away as the disease is managed.
- Pulsatile tinnitus: This relates the to the blood flow through vessels (both normal and abnormal near the ears). Pulsatile tinnitus may be caused by anemia, pregnancy, tumors occurring in blood vessels near the ears as well as an overactive thyroid.
As mentioned earlier, each case of tinnitus is unique. That, however, doesn’t mean that they are all the same type of tinnitus only with different ringing noises in each patient. There is quite a wide range of tinnitus types that could occur.
Different Types of Tinnitus
The three main types of tinnitus include:
- Subjective tinnitus: This is by far the most common type of tinnitus. As the patient, you hear a unique sound that no one else can hear
- Objective tinnitus: This is not a very common type of tinnitus. In this case, your doctor can occasionally hear the sound you hear if they listen for it
- Pulsatile or clicking tinnitus: This tends to produce a buzzing or ringing sound. It could also be a clicking or rushing sound that tends to go in step with your heartbeat
No matter the type of tinnitus that you might be suffering from, there are very many different types of remedies that have been put forth in the past. While some of those remedies may sound ridiculous, there are those that work for specific people
Possible Remedies for Ear Ringing
If at any point in your life you find that you have inexplicable ringing in your ears, you should see a professional doctor immediately. They will run tests to determine the extent and type of tinnitus that you may have and will give recommendations on which course of action to take. Possible remedies may include:
- Medications (such as anxiety and antidepressants drugs)
- Prescribed stress management techniques to reduce emotional stress
- Acoustic neural stimulation
- Hearing aids
- Physical therapy
- Tabletop or wearable sound generators
- Surgery (microvascular decompression or neurectomy)
- Cochlear implants
- Bite implants for patients who might have TMJ
- Tinnitus treatment through sound therapy
- Lifestyle changes
The thing about managing tinnitus is that it greatly depends on your outlook. There are very many different remedies such as vibrational sound therapy that does not work in the conventional medical kind of way.
These methods stem from the theory that every organ in our body is vibrating at a specific frequency and things like stress tend to disrupt that frequency and change it. In this scenario, the noise tinnitus patients hear in their ears is as a result of an unnatural vibration in a select number of organs and pathways within their bodies.
Vibrational sound therapy is geared towards correcting those frequency changes which are attributed to tinnitus.
Tinnitus Treatment Through Sound Therapy
The fact that a little more than 50 million Americans suffer from one type of tinnitus or another means that it is a great cause for concern. Couple that with the fact that there really is no definitive cure for the condition and you have a wide array of professionals working tirelessly to find the one solution that may be employed with great results.
Recently, sound therapy has been of great interest to professionals and patients alike. The following are new developments in the area:
Tinnitus Treatment Sound Therapy News and Updates for 2018
The Levo System
Developed by Dr. Yu-Tung Wong of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Levo system is a recently FDA-cleared form of therapy for tinnitus. The system seeks to train the brain to ignore the ringing sound caused by the tinnitus.
Dr. Yu-Tung Wong himself said that it is very difficult to say that the system will make the sound disappear completely. However, the system is designed to make the ear ringing sounds more tolerable.
The Levo System is designed to mimic the sound created by the patient’s tinnitus. The patient is supposed to listen to the sound created by the system from an iPod while sleeping for a minimum of 90 nights without stopping. This gives the brain time to become accustomed to the noise. Dr. Yu-Tung Wong says that this system works because our brains tend to be more receptive at night. Test patients have reported great success with this system with some even saying that their ear ringing reduced by about 50% and their mood greatly improved.
Promising results from the University of Michigan Medical School
There is a new study that has been published in Science Translational Medicine that offers a practical way to reduce or even silence the ear ringing sound that comes with tinnitus by taking a direct attack on the neurological roots that cause the condition.
This course of action is directed by one of the leading theories about the cause of tinnitus – it states that tinnitus can be traced back to the brain’s dorsal cochlear nucleus which is one of two areas that process auditory information in the brainstem. This area has neurons called fusiform cells. When these neurons become hyperactive, misfire or synchronize with one another, they can create and transmit phantom signals that other parts of the brain perceive as sound.
The idea behind this new method of treatment from the University of Michigan is that if these signals can be stopped, then tinnitus can be eliminated. As such, the team created, tested and patented a device to do just that: Personalized auditory-somatosensory stimulation to treat tinnitus.
The device is designed to emit a combination of low voltage shock waves with sound pulses to the patient suffering from tinnitus. The device has headphones which relay the sound and electrical pulses that are delivered to the patient’s neck and cheek. Using a method called stimulus-timing dependent plasticity (STDP), these pulses are precisely timed to reset the brain’s fusiform cells.
After weeks of testing or real patients, reports show that the device greatly reduced the ringing sound caused by tinnitus in the patients. Two patients even reported saying that their tinnitus had disappeared completely.
While these are very promising results, the problem is that the device was tested on patients who all had the same type of tinnitus (one that comes about when one clenches his/her jaw or flexes their neck). This means that the device’s positive results may not be replicable on all types of tinnitus patients.
The Serenity System from MicroTransponder, Inc.
Researchers have been looking at Vagus Nerve Stimulation as a way to lessen the effects of tinnitus in patients. MircoTransponder, Inc. has come up with a ‘Serenity System‘ that works hand in hand with VNS and sound therapy to manage ear ringing. The system works in two prongs: the VNS fosters the release of neurochemicals in the patient’s brain which interrupt misfiring auditory nerves while decreasing hyperactivity with time.
The Serenity System is a device that is smaller than a matchbox which attached to the vagus nerve by being implanted under the patient’s skin. It is then properly calibrated to every specific patient, so they can do their own therapy at home.
While at home the patient puts on headphones and uses a computer to play a sound. Signals are then wirelessly transmitted to the device which then stimulates the vagus nerve.
While all these treatments are still in their early stages, it is clear that they show promising results and that there is more to come in this area of expertise. Tinnitus patients will soon have a plethora of practical options that are not only effective but also accessible and affordable.