Dr. Ben Thompson is an audiologist and tinnitus expert who also happens to be an old friend of our team. During the pandemic, Dr. Thompson took a new approach to specialized treatment and started combining telecare and tinnitus therapy to better support his patients from home.
The CDC estimates 15% adults in the US experience some form of tinnitus, so we reached out to Dr. Thompson to learn more about this condition and ways to manage treatment no matter where you are.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of a phantom sound. If you have ever heard a high-pitch ringing sound after going to a concert, that is tinnitus. If you hear ringing noise in a very quiet place, like going to sleep at night, that is also tinnitus.
Tinnitus can sound differently to each individual. One person may hear a ringing sound, while another may describe hearing the buzzing of a high-tension wire. In most cases, hearing a different sound does not signify one specific cause versus another.
What causes tinnitus?
The most common cause of tinnitus is damage to the cochlea, the hearing organ that lies far behind the eardrum. Loud noise exposure is a common reason why individuals develop tinnitus. This may be from going to music concerts, working with power tools, or service in the military.
Although sustained exposure to loud noise can rapidly degrade the function of the cochlea, tinnitus can also develop in the natural aging process. Tinnitus is one of the most common symptoms of age-related hearing loss.
A common misconception is that tinnitus comes from the ears. Typically, tinnitus comes from the auditory brain. The hearing system relies on the eardrum, the hearing organ, the hearing nerve, and the auditory brain. Watch this video to learn the basic neuroscience of tinnitus.
Can you prevent tinnitus?
The best way to prevent tinnitus is to limit further damage to your hearing system. Using hearing protection, like EarPeace earplugs for tinnitus, reduces the volume of potentially harmful sounds. Hearing protection is especially important if you have hobbies or an occupation that is noisy. Some common examples are motorcycle riding, construction, live music, and gunfire.
A tinnitus spike is considered a period of time when tinnitus gets worse. This is not always related to loud noise exposure. It is important to realize that tinnitus can increase in volume because of certain inputs from your mind and body. Prolonged periods of anxiety and stress are known to increase tinnitus. Poor sleep can also play a harmful role and lead to increased tinnitus. Learning how to manage tinnitus spikes involves focusing on your overall health and wellness.
How can you manage tinnitus symptoms? Is there a cure?
Currently, there is no surgical or pharmaceutical cure for tinnitus. Researchers have been studying the complex neurological mechanism of tinnitus for decades. This is a research area that is well-funded; however, no researchers have discovered a cure.
The most common tinnitus treatment is Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, which involves audiology and psychology. This treatment aims to reduce the tinnitus perception by conditioning our reaction to tinnitus. The treatment takes six months or more of continued practice.
One of today’s most promising research to cure tinnitus is coming from a group that is trying to regrow cells of the cochlea to restore function to the high-frequency cells of the inner ear. This drug may create a way to reduce hearing loss and tinnitus at a cellular level in the ear. Current research is also investigating bi-modal neuro-stimulation for reduction of tinnitus.
One of the key factors for managing tinnitus is to calm the central nervous system. This is one of the best ways to reduce tinnitus. The auditory brain receives information from the central nervous system. Unfortunately, sometimes the nervous system can perceive tinnitus as a threat. When this happens, the body’s natural response is to increase the perception of tinnitus. This leads to a dangerous feedback loop of anxiety, stress, and tinnitus.
The best way to manage tinnitus symptoms will focus on these three pillars: audiology, psychology, and relaxation. First, using sound therapy will help reduce the perception of tinnitus. Second, managing stress and anxiety has a positive effect. Third, sustaining overall health and wellness will calm the central nervous system.
What are the health implications of tinnitus beyond hearing phantom sounds?
Tinnitus is not very well understood by most doctors in the medical field. Unfortunately, a patient may be told by their doctor that there is nothing they can do to help their tinnitus. This negative counseling has been shown to exacerbate the symptoms, often leading to fear and despair.
Tinnitus is linked to insomnia, anxiety, and stress. If you have a loud high-pitch sound in your head for most hours of the day, you can imagine how difficult it would be to stay focused and calm. When tinnitus becomes bothersome, it can quickly spiral out of control and lead to depression.
Please remember that although there is no drug to eliminate the sound, there are things that can be done. Specifically, focusing on audiology, psychology, and overall wellness.
The management of tinnitus will focus on the whole person. For more helpful information, download a free 10 ebook, The Ultimate Guide to Tinnitus Relief.
More on Dr. Ben Thompson
Dr. Ben Thompson is an audiologist and tinnitus expert. He completed his residency at University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and is a past board member of the California Academy of Audiology. Dr. Thompson founded Treble Health in 2020.
Treble Health provides industry-leading telehealth services for hearing aids and tinnitus treatment. Treble’s team of expert Audiologists help you choose hearing aids that are the best match, so you can hear to the best of your potential. The company’s mission is to help you hear well, stay healthy longer, and live a full life with family and friends.
Dr. Thompson hosts a popular YouTube channel that focuses on tinnitus management and hearing health. His videos have gained millions of views. The channel provides independent reviews of hearing aid technology. Dr. Thompson makes YouTube review videos of tinnitus products, OTC hearing aids, and traditional hearing aids. Visit the Treble Health YouTube channel to learn more about today’s newest technology for tinnitus and hearing loss.
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