Tinnitus is the phantom perception of sound that occurs within a person’s ears or head that originates from no external sound source. This “sound” that is heard varies from person to person sometimes is described as ringing, roaring, whistling, or crickets chirping. This medical condition affects approximately 50 million Americans. Tinnitus is typically observed by the person suffering from the condition rather than by others. Tinnitus is usually a symptom of sensorineural hearing loss, resulting from damage to the sensory cells of the cochlea, or organ of hearing, along with damage to the auditory nerve and/or auditory cortex. Tinnitus can also be associated with ear infections, aging, excessive ear wax, high blood pressure, and sensory nerve disorders. Certain activities, such as smoking, drinking alcohol or caffeine, and taking excessive amounts of aspirin or antibiotics can also cause tinnitus.
Although tinnitus is a common medical symptom and can be extremely annoying, it is also one of the most difficult medical conditions to treat. Many times the person suffering from tinnitus believes there is nothing that can be done to provide relief from the ringing. Most people with tinnitus will complain that the tinnitus is worse when in quiet settings, such as at night when trying to sleep. Quiet time is when the tinnitus appears to be most detrimental. An analogy would be lighting a candle in a lighted room versus lighting the candle in a dark room. The flame of the burning candle can be seen in the well lit room, but when the lights of the room are turned off, the flame becomes extremely noticeable. In essence, tinnitus is most noticeable when the environmental sound is “turned off”. This causes difficulty functioning on tasks when in a quiet room, or many times difficulty falling asleep.
How can you deal with tinnitus?
Tinnitus can be managed. Remember, it is the STRESS AND ANXIETY caused by the tinnitus that is the pathology, rather than the tinnitus itself. However, if you have tinnitus, you should be evaluated to determine what the best options are for managing it. If it is determined that tinnitus is being caused by a medical problem such as high blood pressure, ear infections, excessive ear wax, or even excessive use of aspirin or antibiotics, or drinking too much caffeine, the tinnitus can be medically treated. Still, if there are no specific medical issues involved and the tinnitus cannot be medically treated, simply knowing that no serious medical pathology such as a benign tumor or neurological degeneration exists can be a huge relief. But if stress and anxiety resulting from tinnitus persists, there are options that can help provide relaxation and relief.
As mentioned earlier, silence in the environment can cause the individual to become more aware of the tinnitus. A “sound-enriched environment” can be created to substitute the tinnitus with more pleasant environmental sounds such as music, a ceiling fan, or ocean waves or background noise provided by sound machines. Research studies have shown that music is one of the most effective environmental noises helping people relax and cope with their tinnitus. But in many cases, the individual experiencing tinnitus also has a hearing loss. The use of hearing aids to amplify sound can help to create a sound-enriched environment and afford some relief. Hearing aids provide access to sounds that have not been heard in some time giving the wearer more sound to pay attention to and also potentially covering up, or masking, the tinnitus that the person has been experiencing.
Currently, there exist hearing aids from most major manufacturers with specific features to help patients with tinnitus who also have hearing loss; these manufacturers include Unitron, Phonak, ReSound, Widex, Starkey, and Siemens. These companies have “maskers” that can be adjusted to patient’s preferences for instances when merely getting amplification does not provide sufficient relief. Additionally, Widex has ZEN technology that uses fractal sounds, which sound similar to wind chimes, acting as a sound therapy tool to relax the patients and distracting their attention from their tinnitus. For people who experience tinnitus with normal hearing, Widex ZEN2GO offers tinnitus masker and sound therapy technology without the amplification of a hearing aid. At Ear, Nose, Throat, & Allery Specialists, we can help find the best option to help you find relief from bothersome tinnitus.
Trouble Hearing and/or Understanding?
If you are having trouble hearing and/or understanding, you should see one of our board-certified audiologists. Our health-professionals can help to decide if there is some type of medically treatable cause for hearing loss. Audiologists administer hearing evaluations and diagnose types of hearing loss. Based upon results obtained, a hearing and/or medical professional can determine if amplification is an appropriate option for a patient. The cause, severity, and type of the hearing loss helps in the determination the most appropriate type of technology for a patient, such as hearing aid(s), bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA), and/or cochlear implant (CI).
Today’s hearing aid technology uses digital sound processing to provide patients with optimal benefit. Sounds, especially speech signals, simply cannot be made louder. Sound must be “preprocessed” to enhance frequency patterns of each hearing loss as well as taking loudness recruitment, or abnormal loudness growth, into account. Digital processing enables the hearing aid to adjust automatically according to the different frequency bands where hearing is deficient. Softer sounds are made audible while louder sounds are attenuated, thus keeping the amplification in comfort levels for each individual. Digital processing allows for flexibility within the hearing instrument, resulting in a more efficient adjustment to each individual’s hearing loss.
The audiologists here at Ear, Nose, Throat, & Allergy Specialists work with all of the major hearing aid manufacturers including Unitron, Phonak, ReSound, Widex, Starkey, and Siemens. There exists many hearing aid styles and varying technology on the market. The hearing aid fitting process should be personalized to your needs and circumstances. We help you along the road to better hearing starting at the hearing evaluation. If it is determined that you are a candidate for hearing aid(s), we can do a no-charge hearing aid demonstration and orientation to illustrate what amplification can do for you!
Bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA)
A bone-anchored hearing aid is an option for patients for whom a traditional hearing aid is not a viable option, such as for these patients who fit one of these categories.
Patients with chronically draining ears, where the use of a hearing aid aggravates the infection, causes feedback, discomfort, and poor sound quality.
Patients with congenital malformations and embryospathies where the cochlear function is adequate, but where there are no ear canals (atresia or stenosis of the outer ear canal).
Patients with a conductive hearing loss due to chronic mastoiditis or ossicular disease that cannot be surgically corrected.
Patients with total hearing loss in one ear and a conductive hearing loss in the other ear.
Patients with complete unilateral hearing loss due to acoustic neuroma, sudden deafness, or genetic unilateral hearing loss who are unable to successfully use CROS or BCROS amplification.
We work with Cochlear BAHA, a device worn on a soft headband or a surgically implanted system that uses bone conduction, in which skull bone vibrations act as a pathway for sound to travel to the inner ear without involving the ear canal or the middle ear. For single-sided deafness, the BAHA stimulates the cochlea of the better hearing ear. For the surgical option, small titanium implant place in the bone behind the ear. The bone (mastoid process) actually ossifies around the implant, thus stabilizing the implant so a sound processor can be connected and disconnected by the user. This surgical procedure is performed under local anesthesia and is considered minor surgery from both the physician’s and patient’s point of view.
Prior to this surgery, a demonstration of and testing with the BAHA system is performed using the BAHA testband so that the patient can experience the results of this system prior to surgery. The testband with the hearing device is placed around the wearer’s head, with the sound processor against the bone behind the ear. This gives the patient the information and listening experience needed for his/her decision to proceed with the surgery. The Baha system, being considered a surgical procedure, is also covered by insurance and Medicare.
What People Say About BAHA
“I can hear more sound with the BAHA which has helped a lot with my piano playing. I can now hear soft sounds and lower frequency sounds much better and the quality is far superior to the bone conduction hearing aid I was wearing.” Daniel T.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that my use of BAHA over the past few months has given me a glimpse of what my life could have been like.” Jennifer A.
“Listening used to take a lot of energy. With the BAHA, group conversations are so much easier. I can hear where the sound is coming from and don’t look at the wrong person any more. I can also hear all the little things in life, that others often take for granted.” Vreni C.
“Music and singing are very important to me. I started when I was 6 years old and now jazz is my favorite!” Arnold B.
“After testing the BAHA, I immediately decided to go for it. Once the BAHA was fitted, I noticed an instant improvement in my hearing. I also noticed a real difference when shopping. Despite the music and lots of other sounds, I can hear everything effortlessly. I am so happy with a BAHA – it has improved my quality of life.” Ansvan V.
“What a change – wow! The quality of sound produced by this device is clear and useful to me even in noisy environments. The Baha is so easy to use I often forget it is attached.” Doug M.
A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device for people who do not experience appropriate benefit from traditional hearing aids. A trial with traditional hearing aids and extensive audiological testing with hearing aids must be performed prior to implantation to determine if a person is a candidate for a cochlear implant. During surgery using anesthesia, an electrode array is inserted into the inner ear, bypassing the damaged cochlea, to directly stimulate the auditory nerve so that the brain can get a clearer, more synchronous signal from the auditory nerve that translates to better understanding. The implant is activated, or turned on, weeks after surgery to allow for healing and “mapped” based off of research-based fitting algorithms and patient-specific factors.
At Ear, Nose, Throat, & Allergy Specialists, we like to make patients aware of all pertinent options. We do not currently perform surgery for or programming of cochlear implants. However, if there are indications that you may be a candidate for this device, we will discuss this option with you and refer to the appropriate provider.