Most tinnitus sufferers have the common experience of being told “there is no cure for tinnitus.”

Everyone suffering with tinnitus has a unique story but most sufferers have the common experience of being told “there is no cure for tinnitus.” The patient is then sent away without hope or help – only a leaflet explaining how one might survive a lifetime of torment. Few are told that tinnitus predominantly exists because of a hearing loss or anomaly. This means tinnitus can be treated. If simple logic is applied, treating the hearing loss means that the tinnitus is being treated also.

Anyone looking for comprehensive (and usually depressing) details of the different types and causes of tinnitus will find a plethora of data online. Some links will be given at the bottom of the page to assist in that regard but the point of this article is put the word out that life changing help is available and to explain how and why it works. To that effect we will use two analogies which will make it easy to grasp the fundamental mechanisms of tinnitus and its management.

For the first analogy, consider the sense of sound as a piano keyboard. If your hearing is good all the keys work equally and every note struck produces the required tone. When a hearing loss occurs in a person, it is like some keys produce less sound than others on the keyboard. Your brain notices this and fills in the gaps to compensate. With some people (and we don’t as yet know why) the brain forgets to stop filling in the gap and the note continues to play even when the key isn’t pressed.

The mechanisms of the sense of hearing and the associated neurology are hellishly complex so the piano analogy goes nowhere near presenting a full picture but it is sufficient to sketch a simple outline as to the usual cause of tinnitus. When it comes to tinnitus management however, we need to leave the piano analogy for a moment and skip to another.

Analogy two is as follows. Imagine you have a badly pitted and decayed tooth and you go to your dentist. Would you expect your dentist to say “there is no cure for tooth decay and tooth loss so you’ll just have to put up with it.” Then the dentist hands you a leaflet of recipes for sugar free liquified food and sends you on your way. Would you accept that or would you think that was the dumbest dentist ever and go find someone who would treat your problem with fillings, crowns or a false tooth? So, if you are a tinnitus sufferer, go to an audiologist the same way as you would attend an optician for eye problems, a podiatrist for foot problems etc.

And what will and audiologist do for you? They will assess you and discover the probable cause of your problem firstly. And now we go back to the piano analogy. Assuming the tinnitus is hearing anomaly related (as with the vast majority of cases) the audiologist will address that issue directly. If a physical blockage to sound is the cause then removing the blockage will be the remedy. If there is sensory damage then your audiologist will identify the weak or missing sounds – the keys on the piano you aren’t hearing – and superimposes real sounds tailored to each individual’s needs. Your brain now perceives sounds where there were gaps and has no need to fill the voids.

Using international best practice and technology, the treatment focused on hearing bands, is very successful in more than 70% of tinnitus cases. The advances in tinnitus treatment in the last decade are such that in only a small minority of tinnitus patients get little help. But even for those instances there is other assistance available in the form of TRT or Tinnitus Retraining Therapy.

One highly recommended expert resource which will give hope to all Tinnitus sufferers and re-enforce the message given here is the Widex “Listen Up” podcast at https://www.widex.pro/en/support/downloads/podcasts/tinnitus

Widex is one of the largest, longest established and most respected hearing research companies and hearing aid manufacturers in the world. Their work and the work of other specialists around the world including Prof. Pawel J Jastreboff , Dr. Robert Sweetow is ongoing and very encouraging.

Never again let anyone say “there is no cure for tinnitus” without correcting them by saying “but there are very successful treatments available from your audiologist”.

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Frank McGrath is the Director of Audiology at Apex Hearing North East with clinics in Drogheda and Dundalk and has been successfully using the Widex technologies and their “Zen” programme for tinnitus treatment for more than 10 years.