Guest Post by Canadian Audiologist Jan L Mayes
There is no cure for tinnitus. Nothing that helps 100% of people who try it. Despite cure $ale$ marketing. If there was a cure, then wealthy celebrities with tinnitus would fly anywhere on the globe to be cured. And they are still waiting along with the rest of us. Currently, it’s about tinnitus management. Coping better. Less distress. Which is a big change since 25 years ago when my tinnitus started after a car accident. Back then, there was no test for tinnitus and no treatment tools available. It was suffer in silence. Well…you know what I mean.
There is still no objective test similar to how there is no test that can show if someone has headaches or pain. But there are definitely treatment options. Now evidence-based scientific research shows that many people are helped by a combination of using sounds and mental strategies. Evidence-based formal therapies include Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, Progressive Tinnitus Management and Neuromonics. I think it’s really interesting that research shows each of these therapies help approximately 80% of people. By the end of therapy, they report better coping or better sense of well-being. With approximately 20% of people not reporting benefit.
But researchers still don’t know why some people benefit from a particular therapy and others don’t. And they don’t know which approach might work best for which people with tinnitus. So people usually need to try a formal therapy before they know if they are in the other 20% or not. Or they need to try different self-management options or tools before they find what combination works best to manage their own tinnitus.
Which leaves me hoping for an objective test for tinnitus. Researchers know tinnitus is likely from overly active neurons in the hearing system of the brain. Imagine if researchers and eventually clinicians could tell exactly where the overactivity was happening in a person’s hearing system. Whether it was coming from the lower, middle or upper hearing system. Or all of them. Or some combination of them. An objective test would help researchers identify exactly where a person’s tinnitus was happening in their brain, and then see the effect of specific treatment approaches.
So far, researchers have found general PetScan and Functional MRI test changes in the brain for people with tinnitus compared to people without tinnitus. Research on a MEG (magnetoencephalography) test used for mapping neuron activity in specific areas of the brain also looks very promising. And new research on rats with tinnitus is helping scientists identify which neurons in the brain are overactive, and also show a reduction in rat tinnitus after electrical stimulation of the overactive neurons. There is a big stretch between testing rats and then applying testing to humans. But ongoing research seems pretty clear that when a test for tinnitus is found, it will be some type of specialized computerized test of the brain’s hearing system.
I believe that researchers will then find that certain treatments work best for certain types of overactivity. So instead of general tinnitus management approaches, therapy would be specific to each individual case. Targeted treatment should give better results. Better than 80%. And help researchers work towards not just managing, but finding and fixing tinnitus within the hearing system to reach that elusive cure: 100% of people with no tinnitus after treatment. Imagine that.
I never thought tinnitus would be cured in my lifetime. But current research is amazing. I have more hope now a cure will be found than I ever have had before. I’m just hoping for a tinnitus test first.
Take care, Jan L. Mayes
About the author: Jan is a Canadian audiologist now managing her tinnitus. She is also the author of the book Tinnitus Treatment Toolbox which has positive reviews from people with tinnitus, care providers, and others in the tinnitus community. For more information, please visit Jan’s website and blog at www.janlmayes.com or twitter @janlmayes.