As commonplace as tinnitus is in Redmond—about 20 percent of Puget Sound residents report at least an occasional ringing in their ears—there are still a lot of unknowns. This has made the search for a cure difficult about as difficult as a traffic-free commute along SR-520 on a Friday afternoon.
Why is Finding a Cure for Tinnitus so Challenging?
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus, the sensation of noise in the ears without the presence of external stimuli, is hardly new.
How common is tinnitus?
Reports go as far back as 1600 BC. Yet, even after so many centuries, it’s still a medical mystery to researchers. Tinnitus affects 50 million Americans to some extent; the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 30 percent of the global population is affected. While it’s most common in older adults, it can affect people of all ages.
What makes tinnitus so challenging?
There are many reasons why tinnitus is so hard to figure out. It’s highly specific to each individual; while the most common description refers to a ringing in the ears, it has also been described as a buzzing, whooshing, roaring, hissing, clicking or humming.
Basically, if it ends in “-ing,” somebody has probably experienced it! The extent of its impact on each person’s life is also highly variable. Some folks barely notice their tinnitus; it might be an occasional nuisance that comes and goes or only rarely pops up.
Others are so impacted by a constant noise they can barely function in everyday life. They may experience loss of sleep, poor memory and concentration, anxiety, irritability and depression.
Is tinnitus linked to other conditions?
There’s a link between severe tinnitus and suicide. The lack of a system for objectively measuring symptoms has long stymied physicians; they must instead rely on patients to describe the intensity of their tinnitus, and because no two experiences are identical, it’s next to impossible to come up with a definitive way to measure tinnitus.
Another barrier to finding a cure: the sheer number of possible causes. More than 200 health conditions are associated with tinnitus; factors range from aging and noise exposure to disease, head and neck trauma and medications. And not all people develop tinnitus, even when they are exposed to the same risk factors
Is tinnitus curable?
All this uncertainty means researchers are left with a lot of theories. It’s pretty obvious that tinnitus is the result of a complex set of processes taking place in different regions of the brain; this makes it hard for pharmaceutical companies to focus on any particular area when trying to come up with a new drug.
There have been some promising clinical trials, but no single drug has produced consistent, long-term results. Some patients have fared just as well when given placebos instead of actual drugs. It will take continued collaboration between doctors, patients and academic researchers to make good progress in the search for a cure.
For now, tinnitus patients must be content with managing their symptoms.
Fortunately, strategies such as habituation and masking techniques have proven effective for many sufferers. The goal is to retrain the brain so it no longer assigns much importance to tinnitus; this helps patients “tune it out” more easily. Other treatment approaches include counseling, meditation, relaxation exercises and certain lifestyle changes.
What should you do if you have tinnitus?
Learn more about Tinnitis:
Redmond ENT Office Location
8301 161st Avenue NE, #208
Redmond, WA 98052