Ever wondered what treatments are available for tinnitus? Or which of these actually work? Tinnitus treatments can be very confusing to understand and navigate, so we'll cover everything you need to know in this comprehensive guide.
Tinnitus treatment options
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness of the treatments you can try. In this guide, we'll go through the scientific research, and which tinnitus treatment options have been shown to be effective.
The type of treatment you are offered can also depend on what is causing the tinnitus.
We're going to go through the following:
- Treatment of an existing health condition (that is causing the tinnitus)
- Psychological tinnitus treatments
- Sound therapy
- New tinnitus treatments
- Tinnitus treatments that don't work
It is important to understand that some treatments have been tried but are not recommended as viable treatment forms. But don't worry - we'll go through which ones to look out for as well.
Is there a cure for tinnitus?
The burning question that is at the forefront of our minds is whether there is an available cure.
Unfortunately there is no cure for tinnitus, but there are many treatments that can help. Here is our summary on the latest updates regarding a tinnitus cure.
We'll cover what is the latest treatment for tinnitus in this guide, which is based on the latest clinical guidelines (updated May 2020).
In many cases, you might need to try several or use a combination of treatments to get the optimal benefit. It is crucial to say that none of the available treatments provide a quick fix and it can take time to help show improvements. However, the most important thing is that finding a combination that works for you can help you to cope and reduce the impact on your life.
Let's go over the treatments in some more detail.
Treatment of a health condition
In many cases tinnitus is not a disease in itself, but a symptom of an underlying condition (such as Meniere’s disease or Eustachian tube dysfunction).
In order for your doctor to decide which treatment is most appropriate, they will have to first establish whether there is a reversible cause. This is because the treatments can differ depending on the diagnosis.
If there is a reversible medical condition that is causing the tinnitus, usually treating the underlying cause can help reduce or stop it.
Read more about what causes tinnitus.
Perforated ear drum
Exposure to loud noise, underwater swimming or physical trauma are all causes of a perforated ear drum.
This is usually treated conservatively and left to heal on its own.
Ear wax actually has a lot of protective features for our ears, but only in the right amounts. If there is too much ear wax present, it can occlude the ear canal and often results in tinnitus.
Your doctor can remove some of the impacted ear wax at the appointment. In many cases, this can get rid of the tinnitus all together, or reduce its intensity.
Unfortunately for some people, because they have a chronic build-up of ear wax, recurrent appointments to the doctors will be needed to help relieve the tinnitus.
Ear infections can cause tinnitus, and can be diagnosed simply by having a doctor look in your ear. Ear infections affect either the part of the ear external to the ear drum, or inside the middle ear itself.
These will be treated with antibiotics prescribed by your doctor, which in most cases should resolve the tinnitus.
Some medications have been known to cause or worsen tinnitus.
If your doctor has found one of these medications to be the underlying reason for your tinnitus, they will most likely reduce or completely stop the medication. The reduction in severity of tinnitus will follow.
Blood vessel conditions
Blood vessel conditions are rarer causes and usually present as pulsatile tinnitus. The most common disorders are turbulent blood flow in the vessels near your ears.
You will normally need to be seen by a specialist to be diagnosed.
For this underlying cause, there are several treatments available to manage the condition such as medication or surgery. Again, once the underlying blood vessel condition is managed or fully treated, there might be an improvement in the tinnitus.
Psychological tinnitus treatments
If the cause behind your tinnitus is unknown or irreversible, your doctor might refer you for psychological therapy (the medical word for talking therapy).
Tinnitus therapy normally involves a multi-professional approach. You will start by working with healthcare professionals such as hearing therapists, audiologists or doctors to get a better understanding of your tinnitus. Learning more about the condition will play a key role in learning how to cope with it and manage it better on a day to day basis.
You will then see a therapist who could offer one of the following therapies:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Targeted Mindfulness Therapy
- Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
CBT was traditionally used in other conditions such as chronic pain or anxiety before it was also found to be effective in tinnitus.
It works on the premise that your thoughts affect the way you behave. CBT will help retrain your thinking process, thus changing your behaviour and the impact of tinnitus on your life.
CBT works by helping to stop noticing the tinnitus, and eventually getting to the point where you no longer notice it or find the sound distressing.
In the numerous scientific studies undertaken CBT has been shown to be the most effective treatment for management of tinnitus, and is recommended for use as first line tinnitus treatment in the NHS.
Our comprehensive guide goes into the details of CBT for tinnitus, helping you to better understand how it works, and how you can use it.
Tinnitus mindfulness therapy, or tinnitus meditation, incorporates traditional meditation techniques and applies these in a therapeutic approach. This helps you cope better with your symptoms.
Mindfulness teaches the practice of relaxation techniques before focusing on the tinnitus aspect of the therapy.
During a session you will be prompted to focus on how different aspects of your senses feel in that moment. For example, feeling the sensation of the seat against your back, focusing on the movement of your chest as you become aware of how you are breathing.
The aim of mindfulness therapy is not to “get rid of” the tinnitus, rather to make the sensation of it less intrusive to your life. This is a gradual process, and you'll start by learning meditative techniques before going on to focus on the tinnitus.
Initial scientific studies looking into mindfulness therapies have shown promise. Although there have been no large scientific trials, mindfulness therapy is often recommended based on this early evidence.
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Sound therapy for tinnitus describes the use of a competing sound in a programme to habituate you, so to reduce the perceived intensity of the noise.
The therapy can be delivered in several different ways, but the most common of these uses “masking”. A sound in a similar pitch to your tinnitus, or a white noise sound is programmed into a tinnitus masker device which you listen to for a regularly fixed period of time.
Another type of Sound Therapy involves listening to a relaxing or distracting pleasant sound, which can cover up or ‘mask’ your tinnitus.
Sound therapy is provided using either a dedicated device or an application on a smartphone tinnitus app.
Tinnitus retraining therapy
Tinnitus retraining therapy (or TRT for short) is a combination of long-term counselling and intensive sound therapy.
It intends to retrain your brain and the way it responds to tinnitus. The idea is that this re-training will help you start to tune out the sound you hear associated with tinnitus and slowly you will start to notice it less. This therapy is a highly specific and needs to be performed by a trained specialist.
The scientific research undertaken has not been conclusive, and it is not clear how beneficial this type of therapy is, but many people with tinnitus have found it helpful.
Tinnitus and stress are closely linked.
Although we don’t fully understand the underlying reason behind what causes us to hear tinnitus, we do know that stress can make it worse. This is because stress triggers the “fight or flight” response, which we know also affects tinnitus. Therefore, reducing and finding ways to cope with stress can be helpful.
Here are some lifestyle changes that have been shown to reduce stress:
- Regular exercise – this improves overall mental well-being and can be used as an excellent coping strategy for stress. It will also serve as a distraction for your tinnitus.
- Keeping active – staying busy with other tasks and hobbies will not only help to reduce stress but can help to distract your mind from tinnitus.
- Healthy diet – eating healthily is very important to manage the stress of our daily lives.
- Smoking – there is a common misconception that tobacco can help you to relax. However, the opposite has in fact shown to be true, with nicotine worsening stress overall.
- Personal contact – Tinnitus and hearing loss can be hugely isolating. Talking about how you feel to your friends and loved ones will help you to process your emotions.
You might think that this refers to brushing and flossing before bed but it actually refers to your sleep cycle.
In many people, tinnitus can affect sleep and thus have a spill-over effect on your daily activities.
Sleep hygiene measures can involve:
- Keeping a rigid sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day
- Restricting any form of caffeine or alcohol a few hours before bed
- Reducing screen time for an hour before bed
- Keep your bedroom for sleeping only! Avoiding using this space for work or other activities if possible
We've collated a list of in depth tips in our article on how to sleep with tinnitus to get a good night's rest.
What is the latest tinnitus treatment?
A study published in 2020 looked at the effects of a device that combines sound therapy with electrical stimulation of the tongue.
Participants were given this treatment for 12 weeks and the effect was measured immediately, and 12 months later.
The results showed that this in fact may be an effective way to provide relief, and further research was recommended to establish whether this could be used as a viable treatment option.
Tinnitus treatments that don't work!
There are many claims made online about miracle cures or new treatments for tinnitus.
Although many of these are harmless, some are expensive and have the potential to be dangerous.
If you have any doubt, there is an excellent resource provided by the British Tinnitus Association that assesses both the effectiveness and safety of the majority of treatments available.
A number of drugs have been researched for use in the treatment of tinnitus, but studies have found none of these to be beneficial. These are therefore not recommended!
There are claims regularly made online about certain herbal remedies that can be used to treat tinnitus. Although the majority of these are harmless, none have been found to be effective .
The Oto app offers expert guidance to reduce tinnitus intrusion through a variety of resources:
- CBT techniques
- Sound library
- Meditation and breathing exercises
- Sleep stories, mindfulness for sleep, and sleep preparation
- Guided stretches for the neck, back, jaw, and more
Check out Oto's Tinnitus Support Group, a supportive community for individuals with tinnitus or related conditions to receive regular tips and tricks from the expert team at Oto!