For people just beginning their journey with tinnitus, navigating the onslaught of information and advice can be pretty overwhelming. This primer aims to guide you through the condition, separate fact from fiction, and remind you that there are a lot of great management options to help ease symptoms.
What Is Tinnitus?
To start with the basics, tinnitus is the perception of sound when no actual external source is present. These phantom sounds may come across as buzzing, humming, hissing, roaring, high-pitched tones, crickets, clicking, or whooshing, just to name a few.
"Treble Health helped me reduce my tinnitus by about 80%, and now I can live my life again!"
"Treble Health helped me reduce my tinnitus by about 80%, and now I can live my life again!"
– Steve D.
Which Treble Health solution is right for you?
More than one in ten adults experience persistent tinnitus, and many more people have episodic bouts of ringing. But regardless of the severity or regularity of your own case, there are treatments available to help you cope with and reduce symptoms.
What Tests Are Available For Tinnitus?
Many researchers believe abnormal activity in the part of your brain that processes sound may be responsible for tinnitus. Persistent and bothersome tinnitus may also involve other areas of the brain that process emotions, memory, and our automatic flight or fight response. But because the causes of tinnitus are unknown and tinnitus can also be a symptom of other diseases, it’s extremely important to see a medical professional when you experience symptoms for the first time. While tinnitus is likely benign (albeit frustrating), it’s occasionally tied to deeper issues that are wise to rule out.
During your initial diagnostic exam, clinicians will help determine underlying issues, if any, and make appropriate referrals for ongoing support. Some of these issues may include excessive ear wax, middle ear fluid, allergies, or congestion, all of which can be medically managed and often eliminate tinnitus altogether. There are also rarer conditions – including abnormal bone development – that may be present. Should any of these larger problems loom, there are medical interventions available if diagnosed and properly treated.
11 Best Options for Tinnitus Relief
For routine tinnitus, like so many chronic pains and maladies, it’s all about learning to manage triggers and episodes. Treble Health offers comprehensive treatment plans for tinnitus relief – take our short quiz to find out if you’re a candidate.
1. Sound Therapy
This use of sound as part of the treatment process is called sound therapy. Sound therapy for tinnitus uses a neutral or pleasant sound to either completely or partially cover up (mask) the sound of your tinnitus. These noises, including music or natural sounds, can be delivered through hearing aids, on-ear maskers, sound machines, music players, or any other sound source.
Hearing aids and on-ear maskers often look the same and allow you to hear sounds in your environment without difficulty, as well as stay mobile while you’re tuning in.
Sound machines, music players, and other mobile apps are also easy options, and many now come with alarms and sleep timers, so they can be useful to use overnight.
Lastly, there are other more sophisticated sound therapy devices that audiologists can program and provide that can be customized for your hearing ability and tinnitus. It’s not clear that these devices work better than hearing aids or traditional sound maskers, but can be great for some individuals.
2. Hearing Aids
If you experience tinnitus and hearing loss, one of the first steps in managing the former is to address the latter. This typically means using hearing aids.
Hearing aids keep the cells and nerves of your ears and brain busy transmitting external sounds, and many also offer the option to add neutral or soothing sounds generated from within the hearing aids. You essentially get the benefits of sound therapy and sound amplification.
And while many individuals find themselves anxious to pursue aids for the first time, know there are dozens of discreet devices on the market that are minimally visible and accommodate an active lifestyle.
3. Bimodal Stimulation
In this type of therapy, sound is used with other sensory stimulation, such as electric stimulation to the tongue, cheek, or neck, to change the neural pathways in the brain that are related to persistent bothersome tinnitus. Currently, this emergent therapy is not yet available in the U.S., but is being tested and used with some success in locations around the globe.
Some sufferers of tinnitus may be surprised to learn that professional counseling is proven to have a significant impact on tinnitus management. Because tinnitus is often triggered by tension and stress (and exacerbated by stress during an episode), it’s important to reduce negative thoughts and emotions around tinnitus, as well as encourage acceptance of the occasional disturbance.
5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Counseling is likely to involve some form of cognitive behavior therapy to learn to challenge negative thoughts about tinnitus and change behaviors over time that reinforce those negative reactions. It’s worth noting that CBT is among the leading evidence-based practices for cultivating a more positive psychological and physiological response to stressors like tinnitus.
6. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)
With a goal of helping the brain reframe tinnitus as neutral and non-threatening, TRT uses a combination of constant, low-level background noise along with CBT counseling. Our team of audiologists at Treble Health specialize in CBT and TRT techniques – answer a few quick questions to find out if you are a candidate for tinnitus treatment.
7. Other Counseling
This list of modalities is not exhaustive, and your clinicians may recommend other forms of behavioral support, like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT is similar to CBT, but rather than trying to change negative thoughts, it helps you accept the negativity and avoid fighting it.
8. General Health and Wellness
While not a direct intervention for tinnitus, general wellbeing has limitless benefits for both the body and the mind. By nurturing whole-body health, you’re likely to experience improvements in chronic health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular problems associated with hearing loss and tinnitus.
Included in general wellness is exercise and nutrition, both of which improve mood and energy levels, reduce stress, and foster better sleep. It’s also advisable to stop tobacco use due to the correlation between smoking and tinnitus (as well as smoking and dozens of other diseases and cancers).
9. Meditation, Mindfulness and Relaxation Practices
Mindfulness has been celebrated for millenia for its therapeutic benefits and can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, lower depressive feelings, and also has been shown to mitigate tinnitus-related distress. Similarly, meditation – which encourages focusing attention on current emotions, thoughts, and sensations without judgment – is part of the toolkit of relaxation and self-awareness that is helpful in tinnitus management, as well as countless other conditions.
Relaxation exercises can also be a great way to quickly lower stress, center yourself, and calm your breathing. Some activities include progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and guided imagery. Numerous mobile apps are also worth exploring that you can rely on for some quick support when needed.
10. Mental Health and Wellness
Because tinnitus is so closely associated with stress, work with your clinician or mental health provider to explore any underlying depression, anxiety, trauma, or other concerns and conditions. Caring for your mind is both essential for your wellness and can help dull the ringing in your ear.
11. Jaw and Neck Pain
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, which originate from misalignment or malocclusion of the jaw or grinding your teeth, can cause inflammation and irritation of muscles around the joint of your jaw. This often leads to or exacerbates tinnitus. Other neck strain or pain also causes inflammation and irritation that can trigger tinnitus. A medical evaluation and treatment plan is likely to ease tinnitus symptoms.
Five Bonus Tips To Tame Your Tinnitus Today
1. Play Sound Masking
It’s important that you’re not in silence too often. Try using a fan, sound machine, or sound therapy app for pleasant (or neutral), low-level sounds in your environment throughout the day. You may even try it at night, as well. Pink noise, white noise, or nature sounds are all great options.
If you have hearing loss, talk to an audiologist about hearing aids. Hearing aids can often provide sound enrichment with sound generators that are programmed into the hearing aids. And on-ear sound generators or maskers can be used if you need something more consistent and portable. Our Tinnitus Treatment Bundle includes everything that you need for tinnitus treatment, including sound maskers and counseling sessions with a tinnitus expert.
2. Practice Mindfulness or Meditation
Guided meditations are available online and through apps on your phone – and you can also do them on your own!
Here’s one simple meditation you can try now:
- Sit in a relaxed position on a chair, with your hands in your lap.
- Breathe comfortably through your nose.
- Focus on the breath entering your nose and flowing into your body.
- Notice the sensations in your body as you breathe in.
- Now focus on your breath leaving your body.
- Keep this up for a minute or more. If any thoughts or sensations distract you, make a note in the back of your mind of it, and direct your attention back to your breath.
- For bonus relaxation, add some background sound during the meditation.
3. Exercise To Get Out of Your Head
Physical activity can help improve tinnitus-related distress. And that doesn’t mean you need to start off by overexerting yourself; simply move more and move often. For three to five times a week, pursue an activity you enjoy that gets your heart rate going, like dancing with a partner, hiking with a friend, or biking with your family. Try something you can stick to, and you’ll likely experience immediate and positive benefits.
4. Focus on a Pre-Sleep Routine
As sufferers know all too well, tinnitus can affect sleep, and lack of sleep can exacerbate tinnitus. Here are a few techniques to improve your sleep habits:
- Set a consistent bedtime
- Limit naps
- Avoid screens before and in bed
- Keep your room cool and comfortable
- Use a low-level sound machine at night
Don’t get discouraged if it takes some time to fall asleep or if you have some bad nights
5. Talk to a Friend or Family Member
It’s not unusual for tinnitus to make you feel like you want to avoid people or activities. Continuing to engage in activities you enjoy with people who lift your mood, however, helps stop the cycle of negative reinforcement that can make tinnitus more persistent. In fact, being busy and engaged focuses attention away from tinnitus, eventually weakening its impact.