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Who Should I See for Help?

Tinnitus Healthcare Providers

If you, or someone you know, have tinnitus that is causing a problem, you can seek help from a variety of healthcare providers, including, but not limited to, audiologists, otolaryngologists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, dentists, and physical therapists.

Below is a description of providers, their training, and possible ways they might be to help. Providers listed below are required to be licensed by the state in which they practice. Licensure can be verified by checking the licensing board in your state.

It is important to note that individual providers may not specialize in the evaluation and management of tinnitus. Also, tinnitus treatment is not within the scope of practice of hearing-aid dispensers in every state.

Audiologist:  A hearing healthcare professional trained to identify, diagnose, and manage or treat disorders of the auditory (e.g., hearing loss and tinnitus) and vestibular systems (e.g., dizziness).  As part of a treatment program, audiologists may recommend hearing aids to make day-to-day listening easier, improve awareness, and help with tinnitus.  Some audiologists may also have additional training in the specialized evaluation and management of tinnitus and provide services such as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, Tinnitus Activities Treatment, Progressive Tinnitus Management, etc. (https://ata.org/about-tinnitus/therapy-and-treatment-options/).

Audiologists hold either a master’s (M.A. or M.S.) or doctorate (Au.D. or Ph.D.) degree in audiology. Audiologists work predominantly in private practices, otolaryngology (ENT) practices, academic medical centers, and hospitals.

Dentist:  A medical doctor trained to diagnose, treat and prevent oral diseases, promote oral health, and create treatment plans to maintain or restore the oral health of their patients.  Dentists also diagnose temporomandibular joint disorders. If you are suffering from frequent headaches, jaw aches, and/or aching facial pain, it could stem from a temporomandibular joint disorder, also known as TMJ or TMD.  Associations between tinnitus and TMJ/TMD have been reported, so if there are symptoms of TMJ or TMD and treatment is pursued, there may be some relief from tinnitus.  Dentists hold either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM).

Hearing aid dispenser:  A person licensed by the state to measure hearing and fit and sell hearing aids. Hearing aids have been shown to mitigate the intrusiveness of tinnitus. A hearing aid dispenser does not have a college degree related to audiology but may have a college degree in an unrelated field of study. Hearing aid dispensers may be certified (Board Certified Hearing Instrument Specialist, BC-HIS).  Hearing aid dispensers work in private offices and big box stores.

Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW):  A professional trained to provide mental health services for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. The professional’s goal is to enhance and maintain physical, psychological and social function. Some LCSWs are trained to provide cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a treatment option recommended by the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery’s Clinical Practice Guideline: Tinnitus. LCSWs hold a master’s degree in social work. LCSWs work in private practices, community health centers, and hospitals.

Neurologist:  A medical doctor who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of disorders that affect the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. If you have headaches associated with your tinnitus or sensitivity to sound, you may benefit from a consultation with a neurologist.  Neurologists work in private practices, academic medical centers, and hospitals.

Neurotologist: A medical doctor who has trained in the field of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and evaluates and manages neurological disorders of the ear.  See otolaryngologist.

Otolaryngologist (ENT):  A medical doctor who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of disorders of the ear, nose and throat and related structures of the head and neck. An otolaryngologist can rule out physical causes of tinnitus, such as excessive ear wax, problems with the middle ear (e.g., fluid, stiffened bones), or benign tumors on the auditory nerve. Otolaryngologists work in private practices, academic medical centers, community health centers, and hospitals.

Physical therapist (PT):  A healthcare professional trained to diagnose and treat individuals who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional daily activities.  PTs evaluate a patient to develop a treatment plan that promotes improved movement and function, reduction in pain, and prevention of disability. If you notice changes in your tinnitus associated with head and/or neck movement, or have been experiencing pain in your head or neck, your tinnitus might be connected and a physical therapist might be able to provide relief. PTs hold a masters (MPT, MSPT) or doctorate (DPT) in physical therapy.  Physical therapists work in hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings, and nursing homes.  See http://www.apta.org/AboutPTs/.

Psychiatrist: A medical doctor (M.D. or D.O.) trained to evaluate, diagnose and treat people who are affected by temporary or chronic mental health issues. Psychiatrists are qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems and can prescribe medication. If you have symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, a psychiatrist can diagnose and treat these conditions, which may result in mitigation of your tinnitus.  See https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-psychiatry.

Psychologist:  A healthcare professional trained to help people cope more effectively with challenges in life and mental health issues.  Psychologists are usually trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, mindful meditation, and acceptance and commitment therapy, which are methods that can be helpful for reducing the impact of tinnitus on sleep, concentration, and mood.  Psychologists hold either a master’s (M.A. or M.S.) or doctorate (Psy.D., Ph.D. or Ed.D).  Psychologists work in private practices, community health centers, hospitals, and schools.  See http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/about-psychologists.aspx.

The ATA has an online directory of hearing health professionals, who have self-identified as tinnitus specialists. Such professionals should be knowledgeable of tinnitus treatment and management options.

If you’ve suddenly developed tinnitus, or your tinnitus has become more intrusive, you should:

Stay calm

Tinnitus can be very frightening, especially if it develops rapidly, without warning, or without a clear triggering event. Nonetheless, it is important to stay calm and not panic, because tinnitus is very rarely indicative of an underlying emergency or life-threatening medical condition. In some cases, tinnitus goes away after a few days or weeks.

Note: If your tinnitus symptoms were triggered by a traumatic physical event (head/neck damage, concussive trauma, etc.), you should immediately seek medical care.

Visit your primary care provider (PCP) and audiologist

If your tinnitus continues beyond a week, becomes bothersome, starts to interfere with your sleep and/or your concentration, or makes you depressed or anxious, seek help from a trained healthcare professional. Your PCP should be able to diagnose/rule out certain causes of tinnitus, such as obstructions in the ear canal or temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), and provide a referral to an appropriate specialist. If no underlying medical issues are found, see an audiologist for a hearing assessment and evaluation of tinnitus treatment options. Note: Not all audiologists are trained in tinnitus management.

It is also important that tinnitus patients educate themselves about tinnitus and its management so they can be their own advocates in the healthcare process. (In some cases, the patient may have to educate the provider about tinnitus distress and treatment options.) The ATA encourages patients to independently research their condition, drawing on credible sources, in preparation for appointments. Relevant questions might include:

  • Do you follow best practice guidelines for tinnitus management, as developed by the American Academy of Otolaryngology?
  • What tests do you require or suggest? What are the tests designed to reveal?
  • What is your diagnosis?
  • Have you ruled out possible physical causes of tinnitus, including TMJ, head/neck trauma, obstruction in the ear canal, or tumors?
  • Are you familiar with the full range of tinnitus management options currently available?
  • What tinnitus management option is best for my situation? Do you offer this service?
  • What tinnitus treatments do you use in your practice?
  • What is your treatment plan for me? Can you provide this service or will you refer me to another provider?
  • How much will treatment cost? How many visits do you think I’ll need? Will my treatment be covered by insurance?
  • Do you have additional information for me to review?
  • Are you a professional member of the American Tinnitus Association?

If you have additional questions or concerns, you should not hesitate to ask your doctor for more information. Communicating your feelings and concerns is the best way to get the information and assurance you need to move forward in your treatment. Also, remember to write down your doctor’s responses so you can review this information later.

Do not accept “no options” diagnoses

It is unfortunate that many patients are told incorrectly by doctors that there is nothing that can be done for tinnitus. While it is true that there are no cures for subjective tinnitus, there are proven tools that can significantly lower the burden of tinnitus and improve a patient’s overall quality of life.

If you are told that you have no options for managing your tinnitus, or that you have to “learn to live with it,” then you should immediately seek a second opinion from a hearing health professional with training in tinnitus management.

Consider seeing a behavioral health therapist

Tinnitus symptoms often trigger feelings of despair and anxiety in patients. Current estimates suggest that 48-78% of patients with severe tinnitus also experience depression, anxiety, or some other behavioral disorder. A behavioral health therapist can help a tinnitus patient cope more effectively with the negative emotions associated with tinnitus. There are several behavioral and educational treatment programs specifically for tinnitus management. Therapy that addresses anxiety and depression may also be beneficial.

Take action and stick to it

Once you and your healthcare provider have agreed on the best management option for your specific situation, you should fully embrace that treatment and take action to realize its full benefits.

It is important to note that patients may not see an immediate improvement upon starting a management program. Many of the best tinnitus management therapies (cognitive behavioral therapy and tinnitus retraining therapy, for instance) require ongoing, active patient participation, over the course of 3-12 months. These programs generate the best outcomes when patients remain optimistic, engaged, and see the treatment through to completion.

Take care of yourself

In addition to active tinnitus management therapies, patients can improve their condition through general wellness and relaxation practices:

  • Don’t be self-critical. Patients shouldn’t feel guilty about their condition and how it makes them feel — you didn’t do anything to deserve this.
  • Find ways to increase relaxation. Patients often report that their tinnitus is less pronounced when they are relaxed. Engage in activities and behaviors that help you relax: exercise, yoga, meditation, gardening, soothing music, anything that helps you be calm and content.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Sleeping can be a challenge when you have tinnitus, but a restful night’s sleep can improve your overall health and may reduce the perceived intensity of tinnitus during waking hours. Many patients use sound machines, headbands or pillows with speakers that generate soothing sounds, radio static, or a fan to mask their tinnitus and help them sleep. You should also monitor consumption of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, as well as medication that can impact your ability to sleep.

Find a support network

You should not feel alone in your struggles with tinnitus. Patients who successfully manage their tinnitus often have strong support networks to help them during challenging periods. Spouses, partners, family, friends, colleagues, and peers can all play a positive support role for tinnitus patients. A strong support group can improve emotional wellness, general feelings of contentment, and optimism; it can also reduce feelings of social isolation and depression.

It can be helpful to speak with other people who have tinnitus — people going through the same struggles, participating in the same treatments, utilizing similar management options as you. The ATA can direct you to local tinnitus support groups where you can meet with and learn from fellow patients, in a caring, welcoming, and safe environment. The ATA can also direct you to our network of telephone support volunteers who are willing to share their experiences with tinnitus via one-on-one phone calls or email correspondence

Supporting tinnitus research

The process outlined above provides a general framework for making the most of tinnitus management tools, which can lessen the burden of tinnitus and help patients live fuller, happier and more peaceful lives. These services can (and do) help people feel better. But “managing” tinnitus is not the same as “curing” tinnitus. Finding definitive cures for tinnitus is an ongoing objective for the ATA. To achieve this goal, we need more research, including investigations that advance our understanding of the underlying mechanisms of tinnitus and explore innovative medical solutions to treat and/or cure the condition.

The ATA is one of the only national and international nonprofit organizations that invests in cutting-edge tinnitus research aimed at finding cures and better treatments. Each year, we provide seed grants to researchers with innovative projects that help us better understand, treat, and (eventually, we hope) cure tinnitus. These grants are entirely funded by our members and donors — most of whom are tinnitus patients just like you. To show your support for this noble and important work, please consider becoming an ATA member or making a contribution to our organization.