Experts believe that tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is one of the most common health conditions in the United States. Estimates put the number affected at roughly 45 million! This often frustrating symptom can be caused by a number of things including:
- Exposure to loud noises
- Age-related hearing loss
- Head trauma
- Underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure and anemia
While a physician or hearing health care provider can help uncover the cause of tinnitus, research is showing that many put off tinnitus treatment.
Barriers to tinnitus treatment
A recent review of the existing research, published in The Hearing Journal, uncovered many reasons why people put off tinnitus treatment. Experts now hope to use this information to better serve the millions affected by tinnitus. According to the findings, here are some of the most common reasons people do not seek tinnitus treatment:
Sure we’re all busy, but it’s the amount of time that many have to wait to see a specialist (often weeks!) and the short amount of time they usually get to spend with specialists. According to the findings, patients often spent 10 minutes or less with hearing healthcare providers. The conclusion was “As both ENT specialists and audiologists provide specialized care for otological problems, counseling for 10 minutes or less may not be sufficient for some patients with tinnitus.” This in addition to the many weeks patients often have to wait even to see a specialist seems to add up to too large a barrier for many to overcome.
Lack of services
Tinnitus is complicated and varies from person to person due to its more psychological aspect. Research is showing that effective treatment may be equally involved and varied. Unfortunately, many hearing healthcare providers lack the option to refer patients to psychologists who may offer the support they need. In recent years, research has shown how effective techniques such as mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (to help patients identify and reframe negative thoughts about a specific situation), and Relaxation Therapy to reduce the stress of living with tinnitus can be in managing the condition. According to the recent findings, “audiologists reported that open access to audiology clinics for patients and long-term support services for chronic tinnitus were essential. However, these services are not always locally available to patients. Audiologists in the same study reported difficulty accessing rehabilitation, surgery, and psychiatric care for their patients.”
This barrier seems to go hand-in-hand with many other obstacles identified in the literature review. For many seeking tinnitus relief, the combination of minimal time with practitioners plus the lack of knowledge, resources and services sets patients up for ineffective treatment. Researchers across studies found that overall, practitioners were dissatisfied with medications prescribed for acute and chronic tinnitus and that estimated treatment success rates, in general, were low. The highlight was that approximately “60 percent of patients had minor to major relief of tinnitus from hearing aids”. For many, this lack of relief may pose a significant barrier for further treatment.
The bottom line is that it’s time for healthcare to take a closer look at reducing the barriers to tinnitus treatment. Untreated tinnitus can pose a significant health risk by increasing the risk of anxiety, decreased social interaction, irritability, and even depression.
If you are experiencing ringing in the ears, don’t put off treatment. Advocate for your health by speaking to a hearing healthcare provider today about options such as hearing aids, sound therapy, mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Relaxation Therapy and alternative therapies for relief.