By: Torryn Brazell
CEO American Tinnitus Association
Many of us have experienced ringing in our ears after a loud concert, but we don’t talk or worry about it because it usually fades by morning. But when you wake up several days later still hearing a high-pitched tone, whooshing, buzzing, or the sound of a whistling tea kettle, concern sets in and doctor appointments are often made. It’s those first few appointments that typically determine if a person feels a sense of hope or an overwhelming sense of gloom-and-doom about the possibility of living with chronic tinnitus, which affects millions of Americans.
We work every day at the American Tinnitus Association to ensure that anyone experiencing tinnitus, whether it’s simply annoying or intrusive, gets accurate and credible information about tinnitus management because there are so many effective and inexpensive tools readily available. We’re also working to counter the abundance of misinformation on the internet and the lack of substantive dialogue on tinnitus management between healthcare professionals and their patients.
Most of us would agree that consulting Dr. Google in the middle of the night about a medical condition isn’t a good plan, but we can’t help ourselves; it’s too easy. The problem is there is no cure for tinnitus – it’s a condition, not a disease – but there are lots of “cures” on the internet, which are trying to take advantage of a people’s fear and desperation. A recent caller to the ATA said, “The pills [promising to reduce the sound of tinnitus] are only $167 for a three-month supply. If it works, it’s worth it.” Yes, if it worked, but they don’t.
There’s been extensive research on vitamins and herbs and none of them has been proven to be effective in reducing tinnitus. We interview researchers on targeted topics, such as supplements, for our podcast Conversations in Tinnitus with John Coverstone and Dean Flyger, both of whom are clinical audiologists, as well as for articles in our magazine Tinnitus Today. Credible information helps people avoid wasting precious time and money on things that are truly useless and occasionally harmful. It also gives them a sense of control.
We’re often asked if there are any pills that help with tinnitus? Yes and No. There are no pills that reduce the sound of tinnitus. The only pharmacological treatments we have are intended as short-term interventions to reduce the negative response to tinnitus, which can include sleeping pills for insomnia, antidepressants for depression, and anti-anxiety medications to reduce the stress and fear that sometimes accompany bothersome tinnitus. They are not intended for long-term use but may be necessary to cope in the short term.
The ATA wants people to get help as quickly possible, even if their tinnitus isn’t interfering with their sleep, ability to concentrate at work, or enjoyment of leisure activities, because tinnitus is a warning sign that shouldn’t be ignored. In most cases, it is telling you about hearing damage, which means you need to have your hearing checked by an audiologist and be more proactive in limiting your exposure to loud sound.
If you talk to your General Practitioner about tinnitus, they’ll examine your ears and possibly refer you to an Otolaryngologist who will determine if there is an underlying health issue. That’s an important piece of medical information. If nothing is found, they’ll tell you it’s subjective idiopathic tinnitus, which has no cure. This is the juncture where many patients are told that there’s nothing that can be done. Yes, there’s nothing that can cure tinnitus and an ENT won’t be able to help you further. This is when we’d like people to be referred to the ATA website or our telephone line, because there are research-based treatments that can help get a person back on track, other healthcare professionals who can help, as well as lots of inexpensive self-help tools that can be used to help with sleep and concentration.
Our website is designed to help people understand tinnitus and find the resources they need to manage what can be a very stressful condition. We answer emails and take phone calls to make sure questions get answered and help is found.
We often receive calls from people who have spent more than six months trying to get help to no avail. They call us when they’ve hit a dead end. Hearing their stories and frustrations, we launched the Tinnitus Advisors Program, which is still in beta, about a year ago to put callers in distress in touch with audiologists trained in tinnitus management, who know the full scope of effective treatments and self-help tools.
Those conversations – which are not intended as medical advice or a substitute for seeking professional medical help in one’s own community – provide callers with realistic hope and practical ideas for managing tinnitus. It’s a free 15-minute conversation that can be life changing. It’s a program we fund to ensure that conversations about living with tinnitus engender a sense of control, hope, and the ability to thrive, despite the sound.