Do you have tinnitus and are wondering how to make it go away—or at least get better? You may need to work with a physician, a hearing care professional, and a behavioral therapist to find the right treatment combination for you. Because so many health conditions can trigger tinnitus, diagnosing every case is unique.
In addition to the following treatments, there are alternative relief strategies that may help.
The first step in treating tinnitus is uncovering what may be causing it. One of the challenges in tinnitus evaluation and treatment is that everyone experiences it differently. Measuring a subjective experience is very difficult. A hearing care professional will start by asking lots of questions about your symptoms such as:
The practitioner will also ask you to report your medical history. After a thorough discussion of your symptoms and health history, the examination will begin with a visual inspection of your ears and standard hearing tests. Because tinnitus often co-occurs with hearing loss, you'll likely have your hearing tested, too.
If medical causes of tinnitus have been ruled out, then you likely have what's known as neurophysiologic (sensorineural) tinnitus. This can occur on its own, or may be due to hearing loss or loud noise exposure.
A health care professional's next step is to determine the best treatment. An audiologist or similar professional may use a series of tests to tailor your treatment to your specific needs. Examples include:
Hearing aids for tinnitus
If you have hearing loss as well as tinnitus—which is quite common—hearing aids can reduce your awareness of tinnitus while you are wearing them. That's because they amplify the sounds you want to hear, helping distract your brain from the unwanted sounds.
Today's hearing aids include tinnitus features to help mask unwanted sounds. These often come with smartphone apps to help you learn behavioral and relaxation techniques for managing tinnitus.
Should you get a hearing aid for tinnitus?
Noise and notched-music devices
Another option is a tinnitus masking or noise suppression device. They're typically worn in the ear like a hearing aid and produce either a constant signal or tonal beats to compete with the ringing in your ears. Also, devices that play "notched music" (programmed to match and "notch out" the annoying sounds of tinnitus) can help. Your hearing care professional will use the pitch matching and loudness matching tests mentioned above to set the signal at a level and pitch similar to the tinnitus you are perceiving.
You can also use a free-standing white noise generating machine or a special notched-noise machine. Tinnitus generally gets worse when you're in a quiet space, so being able to bathe a room in background sound might be all you need to help you ignore the ringing in your ears.
Tinnitus sound therapy
Tinnitus sound therapy uses a process known as habituation to retrain the way the brain interprets tinnitus. Essentially, the brain learns to reclassify the unwanted sound as something neutral or unimportant. There are different methods and types of sounds that can help, and an audiologists trained in tinnitus therapy can explore several options.
Tinnitus retraining therapy
Tinnitus retraining therapy uses cognitive behavioral therapy in combination with a masking device to help you learn to ignore the background ringing noise in your ears.
Medications for tinnitus
Although drugs cannot cure tinnitus, there are a few that may suppress the symptoms you are experiencing. Tricyclic antidepressants, like amitriptyline and nortriptyline, are two of the most commonly prescribed medications. If you are experiencing severe tinnitus, one of these drugs may be used. However, it's important to know that these medications may come with side effects such as dry mouth, blurry vision and heart issues. Discuss any other conditions you have or medications you are currently taking with your physician. Niravam and Xanax can also be prescribed, but each of these medications can cause drowsiness and nausea, and they can be habit-forming.
Some medications can cause tinnitus. The most common drugs linked are NSAID pain relievers, diuretics and the malaria drug quinine—all of which are known to trigger tinnitus or make tinnitus worse. But many others can cause tinnitus, too. If you experience tinnitus after starting any new medication, or changing a dosage, discuss it right away with your pharmacist or physician to determine if you should stop, reduce or change the medications you are currently taking.
Tinnitus can be a symptom of another medical condition, such as high blood pressure or a head injury. In those cases, treating the underlying medical condition may remediate your tinnitus. Sometimes the treatment is simple: Your doctor may remove excess earwax that has built up and blocked the ear canal, causing hearing loss and a ringing noise.
Mental health care is key
Mental health care is an important part of tinnitus treatment. As the Journal of Family Practice states "some patients experience extreme anxiety or depression in response to tinnitus and should be referred to a mental health professional on the day they present with symptoms." A therapist with experience treating tinnitus patients can use a combination of sound-based and cognitive-behavioral therapies to help you manage both your physical and mental symptoms.
When is tinnitus a medical emergency?
Sudden deafness and tinnitus
If you or a loved one experiences sudden hearing loss along with tinnitus (usually in just one ear), it could be idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss, known as sudden deafness. Prompt treatment can help increase your chance of a full recovery. Steroids are usually given when this disorder occurs.
If you start to hear sounds that pulse at the same rate as your heartbeat, you may have what's known as pulsatile tinnitus. This can be harmless, but needs thorough investigation since it could be a serious blood vessel or vascular condition.
Suicidal thoughts and tinnitus›
Lastly, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and have tinnitus, tell a loved one and seek emergency help right away. While alarming, suicidal thoughts are treatable.
Additional treatment strategies and alternative medicine
There are many behavioral changes you can make that can either help relieve your tinnitus or help you learn to cope with it.
Homeopathy, hypnosis, meditation and acupuncture are also thought to suppress tinnitus conditions. Studies have shown acupuncture can help relieve symptoms of tinnitus, but relief may not be seen until you have completed 10 to 15 sessions.
Regain quality of life
Tinnitus can be extremely frustrating and can leave you feeling overwhelmed and unsure about your next steps. Remember that you are not alone—tinnitus, while not well-understood, is common. To get better, seek out a practitioner who has experience treating tinnitus, and be prepared to discuss your symptoms in detail so you can get relief and regain your quality of life.