March 29, 2019. “What are the treatment options for tinnitus?” It’s a question that anyone who has tinnitus has asked of their audiologist or doctor, or done a Google search for. Two decades ago, the doctor told me “There is no cure, so you have to learn to live with it. My advice is to ignore it. Don’t give it the time of day.” He went on to say that the more I focused on it, the worse the symptoms would be, and he used the analogy of a refrigerator. “A fridge makes a lot of noise, but you don’t pay any attention to it, do you?” he asked.
He was wrong about the fridge analogy. I don’t pay any attention to my fridge, but I ALWAYS know I have tinnitus. But he did do me a favour in that I learned to live with tinnitus and not let it stop me from getting the most out of life. Decades later, at the seminar on tinnitus that Dr Heidi Eaton of Argus Audiology held in Charlottetown, I was very interested to see if anything had changed in treatment options.
Dr Eaton noted that “In most cases of tinnitus there is NO CURE.” Not what I, and everyone else in the room, wanted to hear. She went on to say that “We try to find ways to better manage your tinnitus. There are many successful treatments. There are also many ‘false’ treatments.”
Since tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying condition, Dr Eaton recommended that the first step in looking for treatment options is to look for the cause by having a “complete audiological evaluation by a qualified audiologist, who in turn can help make a referral to an ENT doctor for a medical evaluation, if it’s warranted.” That’s exactly what happened to me, so many years ago.
Dr Eaton then summarized treatment options, cautioning that while “there are various treatments available, they do not always work for everyone.” The list included:
· Counselling – to reduce the stress and distraction posed by tinnitus
· Stress Management and relaxation – since there is a high correlation between stress and an increase in the perception of loudness of tinnitus
· Change in diet – reducing levels of salt and caffeine can reduce the perceived level of loudness of tinnitus
· Stop smoking – as nicotine can cause an increase in the perceived level of tinnitus
· Sound therapy – to make you aware that the perceived loudness of tinnitus is related to the quiet or noisy environment around you, which explains why tinnitus is more irritating at nighttime when you are trying to sleep!
· Music therapy – listening to music that relaxes you and makes you happy will reduce the perceived level of tinnitus
· Protection from loud noise – wear hearing protection as loud noise can make tinnitus louder and damage hearing
· Support groups for tinnitus – to share experiences and useful strategies for coping with tinnitus, as well as provide emotional support
Another treatment briefly discussed was Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, used in severe cases of tinnitus. This is similar to the fridge analogy used so many years ago by my doctor, where the “long term goal is to be unaware that the tinnitus is there except when you focus on it.” In this treatment, “noise generators are presented into both ears at a soft enough level that the brain perceives both the noise and the tinnitus. Eventually, over a period of 18 to 24 months, the brain may relearn a pattern that will de-emphasize the importance of the tinnitus.” In other words, if the treatment works, you won’t notice you have tinnitus.
Dr Eaton explained that if you have hearing loss as well as tinnitus, then “hearing aids and cochlear implants are another form of sound therapy as they amplify sound. They can be very effective in relieving tinnitus as well as helping you hear better.”
Masking was another treatment option which uses an external electronic device to produce sound that hopefully will cover up (mask) tinnitus. There are two basic types of maskers:
· Hearing aids with tinnitus masking – a combined hearing aid with a masker for those who have both hearing loss and tinnitus
· Commercial noise generators or even a small fan – various types of electronic devices that are “especially useful at night time when trying to sleep”.
When asked about the many medications that are advertised as being helpful for relieving tinnitus, Dr Eaton explained that “there is no single medication that works on all tinnitus patients.” However, she also went on to say that “Certain anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications have proven quite successful for the treatment of the stress/anxiety surrounding tinnitus.”
In summing up her presentation, Dr Eaton’s tips stressed these important tips:
· Keep busy to take the concentration off tinnitus
· Avoid silence, especially if you have trouble sleeping at night
· Eat well and have a healthy lifestyle
· Recognize the importance of a self-help group
· Make sure your family and friends understand tinnitus and what you are dealing with
· Question your doctor and pharmacist about tinnitus side effects in any medication prescribed for you
Lastly, Dr Eaton explained that research into tinnitus is ongoing, particularly with so many current military members who have tinnitus and hearing loss. I look forward to learning more in the coming years!
Would you like to help build our knowledge of the effects of tinnitus and coping strategies? Here is a questionnaire to help you get started. (Tinnitus questionnaire) You will help others by sharing your own unique story.
We all can do more to help build awareness of hearing issues, and to encourage hearing loss prevention programs. With upcoming provincial and federal elections coming up in the near future, your voices and your suggestions for improvements to hearing accessibility are needed. If you think our outreach and educational activities have made a difference, please let us know. Your letters of support make a BIG difference when we try to encourage hearing accessibility. It tells others that we are not a lone voice in the wilderness. Please share your ideas and stories by commenting on this blog, or by sending an email to email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @HearPEI.
© Daria Valkenburg
Upcoming event in a venue equipped with a hearing loop gives you a chance to experience the clarity of sound heard through a hearing loop. CONCERT: The Ross Family Concert at Shore Shore United Church in Tryon, April 7, at 2:30 pm. Sharing a blend of Acadian and Scottish, this high-energy trio offers an afternoon of entertainment sure to raise your spirits. Auction viewing and bidding begins at 1:45 pm. Advance Tickets $12, at the door $15. For tickets call Bev 439-2352 or Cindy 658-2863.
Spring session of Level 1 Speech reading classes begin Wednesday, April 10, 2019, and run for 10 weeks. Two sessions are offered with speech reading instructor Nancy MacPhee: a day class 1-3 pm, and an evening class 7-9 pm. Level 1 covers information to help people better understand hearing loss. Focus is on the most visible consonant shapes of speech. There are many exercises and class interaction to work on improving your awareness and ability to interpret. Speech reading takes lots of patience and practice! But don’t worry. As Nancy says, “We also try to have some fun!” Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to register.
Interested in Level 2 Speech reading? The spring class is completely full. If you want to add your name for the next session, and you’ve taken Level 1, please send us an email.
April Chapter meeting: Tuesday, April 16, 2019 at 9:30 am at North Tryon Presbyterian Church. Guest speaker will be Lisa Gallant, pharmacist and owner of South Shore Pharmacy, who will talk about ototoxic drugs (drugs that affect your hearing).