Tinnitus Treatment Options
Sound Based Treatments
Sound based treatments are most effective when applied systematically within a wider tinnitus treatment approach. Certain sounds may help mask your tinnitus fully or partially so that it becomes less bothersome. In the short term, masking brings about relief, better concentration or sleep. Effective sound treatments combined with other interventions over time cause a reduction of tinnitus awareness even when they are not being used. We discuss with you the scientific basis for the sounds selected as well as optimal times, duration and associated activities (e.g. exercise or relaxation). For each person, our Audiologists recommend the best combination of sound and other treatment approaches.
For some people, effective sounds may be music, fans or other household noises. After testing, your Audiologist can suggest specific sounds that are more likely to be effective in reducing the impact of your tinnitus. The best solution will depend on your hearing and tinnitus characteristics, as well as the times of day that tinnitus is most troubling for you. Commonly used devices include:
Ear-Level Masking Devices: These are worn in the ear and are similar to hearing aids. For people who present with tinnitus but do not have a hearing loss, these device produces a continuous, low-level white noise that suppresses the tinnitus. They are comfortable and easy to use, with customisable sound. Your audiologist will ensure that the sound you receive is effective, but also pleasant and not interfering with your hearing for other sounds. Masking devices are sometimes required for only a few weeks and sometimes for the medium-long term.
- Environmental Noise Generators: These devices produce pleasant environmental sounds that reduce or completely mask tinnitus. They are not wearable and most commonly used at times when tinnitus interferes with relaxation, sleep or concentration. The sounds can be played through an inbuilt speaker, earphones, a within-pillow speaker, an under-pillow speaker or a sleep headband. Environmental noise generators come with hundreds of sounds to choose from so that an effective and comfortable option can be found for most. Commonly used sounds are combinations of ocean waves, waterfalls, rain drops, birdsong and wind.
There are many smartphone applications that perform a similar function to noise generators. Our Audiologists can suggest the best of these, which are also free to download.
- Neuromonics Tinnitus Treatment (NTT): This involves a wearable device this is specifically programmed with music and environmental sounds to mask tinnitus. NTT options range from standard to fully customised to you and your tinnitus. Your Audiologist will discuss with you whether NTT is a good option for you and which product is best suited. Importantly, NTT is a complete program that also includes formalised relaxation and information counselling. Evidence suggests that over 6 months, NTT is effective at shifting people’s focus away from tinnitus.
- Hearing Aids: Hearing aids are among the most well-evidenced treatments for tinnitus. In people with hearing loss, they provide the brain with everyday sounds which can mask or distract away from the tinnitus. They also reduce people’s strain to hear and increase their ability to take part in rewarding social activities again, improving overall wellbeing and resilience.
Some hearing aids can be programmed with additional masking sounds (sometimes called Combination Devices) to provide extra tinnitus relief at very quiet times.
In tinnitus treatment, hearing aid settings are different from standard settings and are best programmed by a specialist Audiologist who can implement a wider tinnitus treatment program.
Counselling and Information
Counselling and accurate, tailored information are main components of most effective tinnitus treatments. Understanding what tinnitus is (and, importantly, what it is not) has a powerful effect on a person’s ability to cope with it. Just as important is an opportunity to simply discuss your concerns, fears and effects tinnitus has had on your life with an interested, knowledgeable professional. At Medical Audiology, we specialise in delivering these tinnitus treatment components to you.
Tinnitus distress is associated with overactivity of the limbic and autonomic nervous systems, parts of the body that respond to stress and emotion. Fortunately, systematic relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness can help people control this overactivity and cope more effectively with tinnitus. Our treatment programs can introduce new techniques to you, or build on ones you already use to tailor them towards better tinnitus coping.
There are many medical conditions that may be causing or worsening your tinnitus. Below are the most common reasons we require medical contribution in tinnitus treatment.
- Earwax removal: Removing impacted earwax can decrease tinnitus by improving your hearing and comfort. Our Audiologists can perform safe, painless earwax removal in many cases. They can also discuss with you a plan for future earwax management.
- Medication Management: Some medications may contribute to your tinnitus. Your audiologist may refer you to your GP or specialist to review this for you.
- Management of Anxiety, Depression and Insomnia: Coping with tinnitus can be very difficult, sometimes causing more generalised problems with stress, mood and sleeplessness. For optimal recovery with tinnitus treatment, medical treatment of these conditions may be recommended.
What is good for you is good for your tinnitus.
- Avoid possible irritants like loud noises/music, caffeine and nicotine.
- Managing stress levels can help reduce tinnitus and the annoyance it brings. Try assessing your week for the most stress-inducing parts (work, chores, certain relationships) and brainstorm several ways to reduce their impact. Try not to be too ambitious; small, simple, and easy adjustment are all important and have a cumulative effect on reducing stress in your day. Also, try meditating, relaxation therapy or exercise
- Reduce alcohol consumption Many people report a positive effect on their tinnitus after drinking a small amount of alcohol. Larger amounts can have a negative effect on the physiology of the ear, increasing the risk of tinnitus. Staying well hydrated and supporting your wellbeing overall are important for tinnitus recovery, so reducing consumption may be helpful for you.
Individual reports of tinnitus relief after alternative treatments are common, especially if you perform a web search. Acupuncture, ginkgo biloba, St John’s Wart and many oils and supplements have been suggested as effective tinnitus treatments. Unfortunately, these treatments do not have any effective action on tinnitus when subjected to the rigor of scientific testing. Some have the potential to reduce the effectiveness of other medications and should not be taken without medical consultation.
Medical Audiology operates on a scientific evidence principle.
Coping and Support
- Social Support
Staying connected and communicating regularly openly with your family and friends can be difficult if you are experiencing a lot tinnitus distress. We know that the effects of maintaining close relationships is important for our wellbeing, and especially so for people with health problems. It is unclear why, but the emotional support is likely to be effective in reducing the impact of stressful times or crises.
- Support Groups
Talking to others with tinnitus can be helpful in allowing you to realise how widespread tinnitus is, even if you are the one most affected by it in your circle of family and friends. It can also be helpful to receive information and support from others who share a similar problem. Please refer to the Australian Tinnitus Association for further information and details.