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You do not have to just "live with" your tinnitus. There are a number of options available that significantly reduce the impact of tinnitus in a majority of sufferers. While there is no cure, tinnitus can be managed in the same way that chronic pain can be managed.
For an excellent overview on the steps involved in tinnitus assessment and treatment, please review this excellent article form the Cleveland Journal of Medicine:
We recommend the following steps be followed:
STEP 1: Talk with your physician about your tinnitus. He or she can assess if there are any medical issues that may be causing your tinnitus. Make sure to mention if your tinnitus began or became worse after you started taking a certain medication. Your physician may refer you to an ear specialist (Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor). You should have you hearing tested as well since hearing loss and tinnitus typically co-exist.
STEP 2: Treat any underlying problems known to be associated with tinnitus such as Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ) or hearing loss.
STEP 3: Modify or reduce any activities that make your tinnitus worse. Stress often increases the perception of tinnitus. For some individuals, excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption can increase the tinnitus. While one glass of wine can be relaxing, and actually reduce stress (and the tinnitus), one bottle might have the opposite effect!
If after going through the above steps your tinnitus continues to have a disruptive impact on your daily life, you should consider undergoing treatment specifically designed to address the tinnitus perception. There are a number of approaches that can be taken and, depending on the severity of your tinnitus, you may work with a team of professionals.
At the East Penn Hearing Center, we provide counseling and several sound therapy options to address tinnitus. What approach will work best for you depends on the severity of your tinnitus and whether or not you have hearing loss as well.
Sound Therapy Options for Individuals without Hearing Loss
For individuals suffering from tinnitus who have normal hearing or only a slight hearing loss, there are several sound therapy options. These can range from the use of simple sound generators (e.g., wave machine, fan, tinnitus masker phone app) during times when the tinnitus is most bothersome to wearable sound generators specifically designed to reduce the perception of tinnitus over time. We are a provider for both the Soundcure and Neuromonics devices. These FDA approved devices are designed to be used as part of a larger management plan where the goal is a reduction in the severity of the tinnitus over time. Below are two examples:
Sound Therapy Options for individuals with hearing loss
For individuals with both hearing loss and tinnitus, the first step is to treat the hearing loss. Many individuals mistakenly believe that the tinnitus is what is causing their hearing difficulties. In most cases, however, it is hearing loss that is allowing the tinnitus to be so noticeable. Hearing aids provide two benefits. First, softer sounds in the environment will be heard again and this typically makes the tinnitus less noticeable. Second, by amplifying sound the brain becomes less "starved" for auditory information and there can be a reduction in the level of the tinnitus over time. For many individuals, using hearing aids leads to a signficant reduction in the severity of their tinnitus.
If amplification alone does not provide tinnitus relief, the next step is to combine sound therapy with amplification. Many hearing aids now have the capability to also produce sounds that are meant to alter the perception of the tinnitus. The sound can be a noise like signal or can be more musical in nature, much of this depends on the user's preferences. As with other sound therapy options, benefit is typically obtained over a period of time and the goal is to achieve a reduction in the severity of the tinnitus. In some cases, the tinnitus may go away for extended periods of time even when the instruments are not worn.
How well do these approaches work?
There is a large and growing body of research on the effectiveness of using sound therapy as part of a tinnitus management program. Success rates, defined as a significant reduction in the perception of the tinnitus, typically range from 60-90%. No single approach has been shown to be the best. That is why we offer several options and always provide a trial period in order to determine which approach is best for a given individual. The key is to combine sound therapy with appropriate counseling in order to maximize the potential for success.
I'd like to have a tinnitus evaluation, what's the next step?
Please call the office to request a tinnitus evaluation. You will need to have your hearing tested if you have not had a test within the past six months. If you have had your hearing tested recently, please arrange to have the results forwarded to our office. We may need to get a referral or script from your physician for the tests to be covered by insurance. Hearing tests are generally covered. Medicare generally covers a tinnitus evaluation, coverage varies for other plans. We are happy to check on your coverage prior to your visit.
For the tinnitus evaluation, you will be asked to complete some questionnaires regarding your tinnitus. We will ask about any treatments you may have tried in the past. We will perform some tests in a soundbooth where you will be asked to judge the loudness and pitch of your tinnitus. Depending on the results of the hearing test and tinnitus evaluation, possible options will be reviewed. Depending on the option chosen, we may be able to provide an instrument(s) that day or a second visit may be required. You should expect to complete several follow-up visits during any trial period.