Tinnitus

Treating tinnitus

If your tinnitus is caused by an underlying health condition, treating it will help stop or reduce the sounds that you can hear.

For example, if your tinnitus is caused by a build-up of earwax, eardrops or ear irrigation may be recommended. Ear irrigation involves using a pressurised flow of water to remove the earwax.

However, in most cases of tinnitus, there is no cure and treatment aims to manage the symptom on a daily basis. Staff at specialist tinnitus clinics will be able to give you information about tinnitus and help you develop a strategy to manage it more effectively.

Some of the treatments that may be recommended are described below.

Correcting hearing loss

Any degree of hearing loss you have should be addressed because straining to listen makes tinnitus worse.

Correcting even fairly minor hearing loss means that the parts of the brain involved in hearing do not have to work as hard and, therefore, do not pay as much attention to the tinnitus.

Your specialist will be able to test your hearing and recommend the appropriate treatment for you. This may involve having a hearing aid fitted or having surgery.

Improving your hearing will also mean that sounds you would not otherwise be able to hear will now be audible and may help override the sounds of your tinnitus.

Sound therapy

Tinnitus is often most noticeable in quiet environments. Sound therapy involves filling the silence with neutral, often repetitive sounds to distract you from the sound of tinnitus.

Some people find that having the radio or television on provides enough background noise to mask the sound of tinnitus. Others prefer to listen to more natural, relaxing sounds, such as the sound of the sea.

Environmental sound generators are electronic devices that resemble a radio. They produce quiet, soothing sounds that are often heard in nature, such as a babbling brook, wind rustling the leaves of a tree or waves lapping on a shore.

Sound generators are particularly useful when placed by your bedside because they can distract you from your tinnitus when you are falling asleep. Many environmental sound generators have timers so that they can turn themselves off after you have fallen asleep.

An ear-level sound generator is a small device that resembles a hearing aid. It may be recommended if you have normal hearing or mild hearing loss. For more severe hearing loss, some hearing aids have built-in sound generators. These are known as combination instruments.

Tinnitus counselling

Understanding tinnitus is an important part in learning how to manage it more effectively. Tinnitus counselling is usually carried out by hearing therapists, audiologists (hearing disorder specialists) or doctors.

Tinnitus counselling is a talking therapy that helps you learn more about your tinnitus and find ways of coping with it. Talking about your tinnitus and how it affects your everyday life may help you understand the condition better and possibly lessen its effects.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the term for a number of therapies that help treat problems such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

CBT is based on the idea that a person’s thoughts affect the way that they behave. Treatment aims to retrain the way a person thinks to change their behaviour.

If you have tinnitus and your knowledge about it is limited, you may have certain ideas about it that make you anxious and distressed. However, these beliefs may be untrue and changing them may reduce your stress and anxiety.

Read more about CBT.

Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT)

Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) uses a combination of sound therapy and counselling to help people cope better with their tinnitus.

TRT involves retraining the way your brain responds to tinnitus sound so that you start to tune out of it and become less aware of it. This is known as habituation.

In the UK, very few specialists use TRT in its full form but many doctors, audiologists and hearing therapists use the principles of TRT in a less structured way.

TRT should only be carried out by someone who has been trained in using the technique.

Self-help

Some people can manage their tinnitus using a number of self-help techniques. These techniques include:

  • Relaxation - stress can make your tinnitus worse so regular exercise, such as yoga, may help you relax.
  • Listening to music - calming music and sounds may also help you relax and fall asleep at bedtime.
  • Support groups - sharing your experiences with other people who have tinnitus may help you cope better with the symptom. For details of your nearest tinnitus support group, contact the Action on Hearing Loss tinnitus helpline on 0808 808 0123, or the British Tinnitus Association on 0800 018 0527.

Medication

There is currently no specific medication to treat tinnitus. However, as tinnitus can sometimes cause anxiety and depression, medication such as antidepressants may sometimes be prescribed in combination with other types of treatment, such as counselling.

Last updated: 07 March 2012