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Tinnitus is a symptom associated with many forms of hearing loss. It can also be a symptom of other health problems. Roughly 25 million Americans have experienced tinnitus.In some cases it is so severe that it interferes with their daily activities. People with severe cases of tinnitus may find it difficult to hear, work, or even sleep. But what causes tinnitus?
Although there is no cure for tinnitus, hearing care professionals, scientists and doctors have discovered several treatments that may give you some relief. Not every treatment works for everyone, so you may need to try several to find the ones that help.
Most people with tinnitus have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing aids create a dual benefit of enhancing hearing and masking or covering up the tinnitus. The majority of patients with tinnitus receive partial or complete relief from their tinnitus with the use of hearing aids.
Tinnitus maskers are small electronic devices that look like hearing aids and are tuned to generate sound that masks or covers up the tinnitus. They may provide relief from the tinnitus, but will not enhance hearing and may interfere with understanding speech.
Some tinnitus sufferers develop anxiety and other strong emotional responses to their tinnitus. Certain medicines may provide relief from these emotional reactions and provide some relief from the tinnitus. Other medicines and nutritional supplements have provided relief in some patients.
This treatment uses a combination of testing, counseling and specialized masking to help you to effectively manage and gradually reduce your response to the tinnitus. This treatment can take six months or more to complete but has the highest rate of success.
People with tinnitus may experience anxiety, depression and other psychiatric problems. You may be referred to a psychiatrist or counselor as needed.
Learning how to relax is very helpful if the noise in your ears frustrates you. Stress makes tinnitus seem worse. By relaxing, you have a chance to rest and better deal with the sound.
Noise-induced hearing loss, the result of damage to the sensory hair cells of the inner ear, is one of the most common causes of tinnitus. Anything you can do to limit your exposure to loud noise—by moving away from the sound, turning down the volume, or wearing earplugs or earmuffs—will help prevent tinnitus or keep it from getting worse.
Each year about 1 in 10 adults nationwide has an episode of tinnitus that lasts longer than 3 months.
Along the path a hearing signal travels to get from the inner ear to the brain, there are many places where things can go wrong to cause tinnitus. If scientists can understand what goes on in the brain to start tinnitus and cause it to persist, they can look for those places in the system where a therapeutic intervention could stop tinnitus in its tracks.
Implantable devices already exist to reduce the trembling of Parkinson’s disease and the anxieties of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Similar devices could be developed to normalize the neural circuits involved in tinnitus.
Researchers are exploring how to take advantage of the tonotopic map, which organizes neurons in the auditory cortex according to the frequency of the sound to which they respond. Previous research has shown a change in the organization of the tonotopic map after exposing the ear to intense noise. By understanding how these changes happen, researchers could develop techniques to bring the map back to normal and relieve tinnitus.
Researchers have observed hyperactivity in neural networks after exposing the ear to intense noise. Understanding specifically where in the brain this hyperactivity begins and how it spreads to other areas could lead to treatments that use deep brain stimulation to calm the neural networks and reduce tinnitus.
This technique, which uses a small device placed on the scalp to generate short magnetic pulses, is already being used to normalize electrical activity in the brains of people with epilepsy. Preliminary trials of rt Ms in humans, funded by the NIDCD, are helping researchers pinpoint the best places in the brain to stimulate in order to suppress tinnitus.
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