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Hearing Loss and Tinnitus

Therapies for Hearing Loss and Tinnitus

Hearing Loss

Hearing aids. One of the most common treatments for hearing loss is the use of hearing aids. Hearing aids are devices that amplify sound waves, making it easier to hear sounds. There are a variety of hearing aids available, and people who are hard of hearing typically need to go to a trained specialist to determine exactly what type of hearing aid is appropriate (Weber 2012a). Studies estimate, however, that only about 15% to 20% of people who could benefit from hearing aids use them. This may be due to cost or because people often consider mild hearing loss inconsequential, and therefore do not seek treatment (Chien 2012; Natalizia 2010).

Hormone Replacement Therapy for Hearing Loss

One interesting development in the field of hearing loss research is the potential link between aldosterone levels and hearing loss. Aldosterone is a hormone that helps to regulate blood pressure and electrolyte levels. Research has found that higher aldosterone levels may help protect the cochlea from age-related hearing loss (Tadros 2005). A case study has also been published detailing a child with genetically low aldosterone levels and otherwise unexplained sensorineural hearing loss (Rubio-Cabezas 2010). Currently, the Tahoma Clinic in Seattle is recruiting volunteers for a study examining the effects of aldosterone supplementation on hearing loss (Tahoma Clinic 2012).

Tinnitus

Behavioral Therapies. Treatment for tinnitus includes behavioral therapies (i.e. therapeutic behavior modification). One specialized therapy, known as tinnitus retraining therapy, aims to train the brain to ignore symptoms of tinnitus unless specifically focusing on ringing in the ears. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and biofeedback can also be used to help learn to manage responses of the mind and body to tinnitus, thus allowing people to minimize its effects on their daily lives (Andersson 1995; Dinces 2012; Pantev 2012).

Masking and electrical stimulation. Sound-masking devices are commonly used to treat tinnitus. These devices emit low levels of noise designed to help reduce the perception of tinnitus (Vernon 2003). However, it has been seen that masking by itself is not as effective in reducing the severity of tinnitus as some other treatment options, such as relaxation techniques, counseling, and tinnitus retraining (Hobson 2010).

Electrical stimulation of the cochlea, via electrodes placed on parts of the ear, can also provide relief from tinnitus in people who also have hearing loss (Konopka 2001; Dinces 2012).

Neuromodulation. One emerging treatment for tinnitus is neuromodulation, a process that helps correct the “misfiring” or continuous “firing” of neurons in the brain leading to tinnitus. Different methods and devices for this purpose are being researched (University of Nottingham 2012). One of them, called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), uses magnetic pulses to modulate brain activity; preliminary results show that it is effective for reducing tinnitus symptoms (De Ridder 2007). Deep brain stimulation, a technique in which electrodes are carefully placed in certain areas of the brain in order to deliver therapeutic electrical signals, has also been researched as a potential treatment for tinnitus (Cheung 2010). One of the most novel therapies to treat tinnitus is acoustic stimulation. A device used for this treatment has been found to be both safe and effective (Tass 2012) and has the added advantage of being relatively small and portable (University of Nottingham 2012).

Medications. Some drugs have been shown to partially relieve tinnitus or ease emotional distress associated with tinnitus or hearing loss; these include antidepressants, sleep aids, and antipsychotics (Salvi 2009; Belli 2012). However, efficacy has proven inconsistent in trials and more evidence is needed before the best drug strategy can be determined (Darlington 2007; Hoare 2011).