Tinnitus is a condition that affects around 13 million people in the USA alone. It’s not a medical condition in itself but, in some cases, there may be an underlying medical condition which is causing it. You should therefore always consult a medical professional in the first instance to first check for any medical treatment for tinnitus.
Left untreated or unmanaged tinnitus can also lead to mental health conditions like depression or anxiety so it’s really important you don’t just ignore it and hope that it will go away.
This article covers the diagnosis and medical treatment for tinnitus.
Before any medical treatment for tinnitus can be prescribed the first step is to diagnose tinnitus. That means doing a medical and physical evaluation. This will help to determine the causes of the condition and effective treatment. The doctor may ask you the next questions:
- When did the symptoms begin?
- How often does it affect you?
- How would describe the pattern of the noise? Is it continuous, episodic or pulsatile?
- Does it affect one ear or both ears?
- Are you taking any medication? ?If so, which one? Certain medications can cause tinnitus.
- Are there any factors that exacerbate or alleviate the noise?
- Do you commonly have exposure to loud noise?
The doctor will also ask you to describe the intensity of the noise.
After doing the medical history the doctor will perform a physical exam with an otoscope. This is a device that allows the doctor to view through the ear canal and the tympanic membrane. This way the doctor could check if the patient has an ear infection, an ear wax build-up, and glue ear all which are conditions that can cause tinnitus.
The doctor will perform auscultation over the neck, periauricular area, orbits, and mastoid to determine if there is tinnitus of venous origin.
The doctor will ask you to move your eyes, neck, arms, and legs to check if the tinnitus changes or worsens. It will also help to identify any underlying medical condition.
Many people who have tinnitus also have hearing loss so it is important for the doctor to evaluate how well your ear bones conduct sound if the middle and inner ears are working properly and the range of your hearing.
You will sit in a soundproof room wearing headphones through which will be played different sounds or spoken words into one ear at a time. You will be asked to indicate when you can hear the sound. The sounds have different frequencies and you may be asked to repeat the words. This way the doctor can determine if the tinnitus is independent of hearing loss.
Other diagnostic tests are:
- Tympanogram: A test that measures the mobility of the tympanic membrane and the conduction bones.
- Acoustic reflex testing: A test that measures the contraction of the middle ear muscles in response to loud noises.
- Loudness discomfort test: Determines the volume at which external noise becomes too uncomfortable for a tinnitus patient.
- Tinnitus Sound Matching: The specialist will adjust the pitch and layer of multiple sounds to create an exact recreation of the tinnitus sound.
- Imaging tests: This test is recommended when the tinnitus is unilateral which may indicate a medical condition that affects one side of the head. The imaging test like MRI scans and CT scans are able to create detailed pictures of structures in our bodies like the inner ear, blood vessels of the ear and the nerves surrounding the ear. This test will determine underlying medical conditions or a tumor near the ear that could be causing the tinnitus.
Treating Underlying Medical Condition
As we stated earlier, Ttnnitus is not a disease but may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. The most common reason is a neurosensorial hearing loss but it may also be a symptom of another condition such as:
- Severe injury to the neck or head.
- Nasal Congestion.
- Ear wax build up.
- Certain medications like antibiotics, diuretics, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
- Lyme disease.
- Meniere’s disease.
- High blood pressure.
- Tumor-related disorders.
This is why the medical evaluation is so important because it allows the doctor to detect any underlying medical condition and treat it to reduce the symptoms of tinnitus or even to make them disappear.
Medical Treatment For Tinnitus
Assuming there is no underlying medical condition there is nothing that can be prescribed to treat it, there is no magic pill and no specific medical treatment for tinnitus. That said, there are ways to help manage it and to mask the effects.
Tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss, the brain undergoes neuroplastic changes and processes the sound frequencies. The hearing aids are small devices worn behind the ear. The device comes with a microphone, speaker, and amplifier to increase the amount of sound stimulation that is received and processed by our body’s auditory system. At least 60% of those patients wearing hearing aids experience some relief from the tinnitus.
Hearing aids increase the volume of the external noise to a point that it masks the sound of the tinnitus. In very simple terms, if you hear more “real” external sounds you hear your tinnitus less! A hearing aid prescription may well help.
Although not a medical treatment for tinnitus a referal to a specialist sound therapist mey be an option. Sound therapy involves the use of external noise to alter the patient’s perception of tinnitus. It may not cure the condition but will definitely lower the intensity of the tinnitus. This therapy can include four different approaches:
- Masking: exposes the patient to an external noise to a volume that is enough to mask the sound of the tinnitus.
- Neuromodulation: Minimizes the neural hyperactivity. It is considered when neural hyperactivity is an underlying medical condition for tinnitus.
- Habituation: Helps the patient to minimize the impact and perception of the sound of tinnitus.
- Distraction: To distract the patient’s attention from the tinnitus sound.
Treating Dysfunctions And Obstructions
Certain cases of tinnitus may be caused by a temporomandibular joint. In this case, a dental procedure or realignment of your bite may help alleviate the problem.
An obstruction in your ear (for example a wax build-up) can also cause tinnitus. Cleaning out excess ear wax or removing any other obstruction could be enough for the tinnitus to disappear.
Tinnitus can lead to high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety when it is untreated. Relaxation is also proven to help. For these reasons your doctor may prescribe you antidepressants and antianxiety drugs to alleviate the symptoms of tinnitus. It won’t cure the tinnitus but can help you with the symptoms and therefore improve your quality of life.
Again, behavioral therapies don’t cure tinnitus but are able to help the patients with their emotional reactions to tinnitus and reduce the impact it has on their life. It focuses on learning relaxation techniques and getting cognitive skills to replace negative thinking and reduce internal attention to tinnitus.
Progressive Tinnitus Management
This is a therapeutic program that is offered to the veterans. Tinnitus is one of the most common disabilities of veterans due to the loud noises of war.
Medical Treatment For Tinnitus – Conclusion
For any tinnitus sufferer the fact that there is no medicat treatment for tinnitus are not the words they’ll want to hear. That said, you should always have your symptoms checked out professionally in case there is an underlying medical condition causing it. If that is the case then treating the condition may just cure the tinnitus.
Research into this very common and widespread condition continues. Who know’s what’s round the corner and just how long it takes before a cure is found!