Tips from Tinnitus Experts
Tinnitus may disappear on its own or it may continue on endlessly. If you feel tinnitus is negatively affecting your quality of life, schedule an appointment to discuss your experiences and determine which of the current therapies would be beneficial for you.
1. Avoid silence! If you are not using your customized sound therapy, you should have some sound in the background to create contrast with your tinnitus. Low-level music or a sound generator that plays various soundscapes are helpful, even while sleeping. The brain is still active while we are asleep; therefore, creating contrast to the tinnitus brain activity can improve our ability to stay in deep sleep cycles longer. Customized sound therapy is most effective in helping to avoid silence because it takes into consideration individual pitch differences between the two ears. It also takes into consideration whether or not any boost to the signals are necessary in order to reduce input deficiency to the brain, which is the cause of tinnitus in the majority of cases.
2. Determine tinnitus triggers. Most people can find triggers to their tinnitus such as stress or eating certain foods that make the tinnitus louder (i.e., MSG). Once we know what our tinnitus triggers are, avoiding and managing them as best as possible is important to our long-term tinnitus reduction. Many patients find a combined approach to tinnitus treatment necessary, or incorporating sound therapy with exercise and/or relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, or acupuncture.
3. Protect your hearing, but not too much! Protecting our hearing against more damage is important in minimizing tinnitus increases, such as wearing earplugs while using a lawn mower and power tools, wearing filtered earplugs to concerts or while listening to loud music, and wearing earmuffs with recreational noise exposure like hunting or shooting, etc. It is not helpful to overprotect the ears from everyday sounds like riding in a car or going to the grocery store. Avoiding everyday sounds or using hearing protection in these situations can heighten the central nervous system’s response to normal levels of sound, making them seem much louder than they really are produced. This can inevitably lead to hyperacusis, or hypersensitivity to sound in addition to tinnitus.
4. Quickly respond to changes in your hearing. Any sudden drop in hearing or major change in hearing abilities should be considered a medical emergency. Studies show that if someone has a sudden loss of hearing in one or both ears and is treated in the first 72 hours of onset, they often can reverse the loss; however, if the treatment is not administered until weeks after onset, the loss of hearing is typically permanent and irreversible. If the sudden loss is due to an infection or viral attack of the inner ear, antibiotics and/or steroids may be prescribed that can help, but typically only if administered rather quickly after the symptoms first appear. Sudden loss of hearing may also be present with debilitating vertigo or chronic dizziness. Although many people want to “wait it out” at home in bed, this is probably the worst thing we can do since diagnosis and treatment work best immediately following the onset of symptoms. If this happens to you, get to Urgent Care or an ER as soon as possible!
5. Stick with tinnitus treatment with tinnitus experts for at least a year, possibly 18-24 months depending on your unique situation. Tinnitus typically does not develop overnight and therefore cannot be reversed that easily in most cases. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is not difficult; it just requires persistence and patience. TRT is a process, but the long-term benefits of preventing louder tinnitus perception or more disturbances to the tinnitus are key outcomes that are important to consider even if we feel the tinnitus is unchanged. If the tinnitus is not increasing in volume over time, and we are reacting less to its presence, we know we are experiencing less of a nervous system response to the tinnitus, which is essential to the process of finding relief.