Tinnitus is a condition that affects around 17.5% of people, mainly older adults. Tinnitus is the symptom of phantom ringing or other noises happening within one or both ears. It is a fairly common condition for all age groups. Normally, tinnitus is caused by exposure to loud noises over extended periods.
Although some serious health conditions cause tinnitus, it is not an indicator of something serious. Eventually, it would be beneficial to talk to a doctor about it because it could be an indicator of hearing loss, especially later in life.
There are over 200 health conditions that cause tinnitus. Some things that can cause it are obstructions in the middle ear, head or neck trauma, temporomandibular joint disorder, sinus pressure, barometric trauma, TBI, ototoxic drugs, and several other medical conditions. Blockages, damage, and medical conditions can all cause ringing. 1
Because tinnitus is caused by several different things, there are a variety of ways to minimize it. Some methods that are suggested are as follows: 2
There are four different types of tinnitus, and two of them are more common than the others. They are subjective, neurological, somatic, and objective. Neurological tinnitus is caused by a neuro disorder that messes with the brain’s auditory functions. Somatic tinnitus is caused by issues with the sensory system inside of the body. 3
Subjective tinnitus is the most common form of this condition. It is when the noise that is being heard by the patient is caused by exposure to excessive noise repeatedly over time. With subjective tinnitus, the sound can come and go, but in severe cases, the noise will never go away (Audiology & Hearing Health, 2016). In subjective cases, only the patient themselves can hear it. Some people would put neurological and somatic tinnitus underneath the subjective category.
Objective tinnitus is a rarer form that is caused by vascular deformities or involuntary muscle contractions. When treated, tinnitus can stop completely. This form of tinnitus can be heard from outside observers. 3
There are three different ways that a person can perceive the ringing or sound.
Tonal tinnitus is normally when a person perceives a sound that is near-continuous with defined frequencies. The volume might fluctuate throughout the experience. This form is normally associated with subjective tinnitus. 4
Pulsatile tinnitus is when a patient can hear a pulsing sound, which tends to align with their heartbeat. Pulsatile tinnitus normally indicates that there might be a cardiovascular issue with the person that is treatable, so it is important to pay attention to this issue. Pulsatile tinnitus can be linked to both subjective and objective tinnitus. 4
Musical tinnitus, otherwise known as musical ear syndrome, is an extremely rare form of this issue. It is when somebody perceives someone else to be singing or they constantly hear music. Normally, they hear it with a repetitive tune or in a repetitive loop. 4
There are multiple different ways a person can go about treating tinnitus. Many times, it will be determined by the specific medical condition that is causing the tinnitus to occur.
Hearing aids are a popular choice of treatment whenever there is noise-induced or age-related hearing loss. Hearing aids can be very effective in improving symptoms. 5
There are two main kinds of counseling that can help with tinnitus. Normally, they focus on behavior and how to better live with the symptoms. The hope is that the tinnitus will bother you less over time. The two main kinds of counseling are tinnitus retraining therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. 5
Sound generators, such as white noise machines, can be a very effective treatment. Normally, these machines produce a static or white noise to help make tinnitus less noticeable. Many times, things such as fans, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, or sound machines that make nature sounds can help, especially at night.
Acoustic neural stimulation is where an acoustic signal is directed towards the neural pathways to the brain to reprogram it. The end goal is to filter out the sound of tinnitus. This treatment takes months, and it is a gradual process.
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that stimulates the cochlear nerve. The external part of the implant is used as a microphone. It will process the sounds and send them to the inner part of the device. It does not restore hearing fully, but it does help improve it. 6
Many times, there could be underlying conditions that can cause complications or worsen them. Antidepressants can help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, which tend to correlate with tinnitus.
Doctors might also prescribe other medications that help with other underlying conditions.
Finally, there are a lot of newer methods of using magnetic or electrical stimulation to help relieve symptoms of tinnitus. Things such as DBS and TMS are beneficial, non-invasive procedures that can help relieve symptoms with a high success rate.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a beneficial treatment option for people struggling with tinnitus. Not only can it treat the tinnitus itself through magnetic pulses, but it can also treat some underlying neuro disorders.
RTMS is a process that takes between four to six weeks, five days a week for an hour each day. A lot of researchers believe that rTMS might be able to reduce the severity of tinnitus. Although it has not been as effective as it has been with other things, rTMS has a lot of potentiasl to improve to help people struggling with tinnitus. Currently, 40% of patients are receiving benefits from the treatment. 7
DBS is an older, more accepted procedure that is used for people struggling with Parkinson’s Disease, tremors, and other chronic conditions, such as tinnitus. The doctor will use electromagnetic energy to help with the issue. It is an invasive procedure that involves surgery and placing electrodes on the brain. So far, people have gotten a reduction in tinnitus as a benefit of DBS after getting treatment for a different issue. However, a lot of research is still needed for this treatment method. 7
There are several benefits of TMS therapy. Although it is normally considered a last option for treatment, it is becoming more popular for patients that suffer from tinnitus. Here are a few of the benefits.
TMS is very individualized and focused on the person’s specific needs. Since tinnitus can be caused by hundreds of different disorders, TMS is a great way to treat it. Your doctor will create a treatment plan that is based on your specific needs, how much your body can handle, and what is best for you.
TMS therapy can also improve the daily life of the patient. By lowering the symptoms of tinnitus and other things such as depression, this treatment plan can help ease symptoms and improve normal activities in life.
TMS therapy is a very successful treatment plan. Between 40-60% of people have success after going through the treatment plan, 40% regarding TMS for tinnitus.
TMS doesn’t require surgery, and it is very noninvasive and painless. Because of this fact, people can go through the process without worry.
Besides migraines and some other rare side effects, TMS has no side effects. Most people can walk out immediately after finishing treatment each day.
It is also a great non-drug alternative to treatment. TMS helps out without requiring medication. However, most doctors will have patients continue to take prescriptions that were given to them by their doctor previously to work alongside the treatment.
TMS is an FDA-approved treatment, and it has been proven to be very effective.
Early on, many insurance companies did not cover the treatment. Now, many companies including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, and Medicaid are covering the costs after other treatment options are attempted.
Finally, you will not have to wait for monitoring after going through TMS therapy. Instead, you will be able to leave right away without any side effects.
Tinnitus is a symptom of several other disorders or damage to the brain or ear. TMS therapy is a great way to treat tinnitus, and the system is improving daily. It does take a time commitment, but it has been proven to be effective for many patients. If you have more questions about TMS, reach out to your health care provider about treatment options.