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Tinnitus Therapy Features: What’s Right for You?

Advanced hearing aids include tinnitus therapy features along with amplification and directionality for better hearing. Since the symptoms and their impacts vary between individuals, hearing aid manufacturers include different treatment options to alleviate the irritation, anxiety, and other negative responses to tinnitus. The goal is finding the right solution for your specific concerns.

What is tinnitus?

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, tinnitus is the clinical name for what many refer to as “ringing in the ears.” Sufferers hear sounds of varying degrees of intensity in their ears even though there is no external source for them. These phantom noises can take many forms besides ringing depending on whether the tinnitus is of the tonal or non-tonal variety. Tonal tinnitus is the more common form and involves the perception of either continuous or overlapping noises. People with tonal tinnitus usually describe the sound as ringing, whistling, or buzzing. Those who have non-tonal tinnitus tend to experience such noises as humming, clicking, crackling, or rumbling.

Not all tinnitus can be traced to a specific cause

Some causes of tinnitus can be identified, but not all. Generally, tinnitus results from a failure of the natural filtering function in our listening system. We don’t realize it but we’re actually hearing the all sounds around us all the time. However, when the filtering works properly, it eliminates about 70 percent of this input so that we aren’t constantly overwhelmed. In some people, this filtering mechanism malfunctions, so they hear too many sounds, such as their own blood circulating in their ears. Background noises, like the hum from an alarm system, can become amplified and even after the outside stimulus goes away tinnitus sufferers can experience residual perception. As a result, hearing that humming or similar noise never stops.

The following are some of the known causes of tinnitus:

        Subjective tinnitus: Responsible for the majority of cases and typically caused by noise-induced damage. It may or may not be permanent.

        Objective tinnitus: This very rare version can also be heard by other people if they get close enough to the affected person’s ear. It is believed to be linked to vascular malformations or involuntary muscle contractions, and can go away if the underlying cause is treated.

        Neurological tinnitus: Caused by neurological conditions, such as Meniere’s disease. It is usually accompanied by balance problems and vertigo.

        Somatic tinnitus: Results from disruptions of sensory signals that produce a muscular spasm you can hear. It often only affects one ear and may go away if the underlying cause is treatable.

        Ototoxicity: This literally translates to “ear poisoning” and refers to damage caused by certain medications or illegal drugs. In most cases the tinnitus goes away as soon as the person stops taking the meds. However, drugs can cause permanent damage, depending on type or how long they’re taken.

        Jaw-joint dysfunction: Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), teeth grinding, strained neck muscles, and injuries to the area around your jawbone can cause or contribute to tinnitus symptoms.

How hearing aids can be used to treat tinnitus symptoms

While in many cases tinnitus is incurable, it is often treatable with the use of hearing aids. Even if it isn’t accompanied by hearing loss, hearing aids can be programmed not to provide amplification but only to utilize their tinnitus therapy features.

The principle around treating tinnitus by introducing other sounds is simple: the emission of a therapeutic signal distracts your brain from focusing on the irritating phantom noises. Depending on the hearing aids you use a variety of signals are available:

        Soothing sounds: These include waves rolling slowly onto a beach, water streaming over pebbles, and other gentle sounds that are naturally relaxing and unobtrusive.

        Static sounds: These mix in with the tinnitus noise to distract the mind and drive the combined sound into the background. Usually described by colors (e.g., white noise, pink noise).

For those who don’t want to depend on adding other sounds to counter tinnitus noise, there is a new option called Notch Therapy. Only available in Signia hearing aids Notch Therapy is particularly effective for those who have tonal tinnitus. Instead of masking tinnitus noise with other sounds, hearing aids are programmed to the defined frequency of the tinnitus and decrease its audibility. This relegates the tinnitus noise into the background over time, reducing overstimulation that leads to hyper-perception of sound. The longer the Notch Therapy treatment is used the more effective it becomes.

Consult a hearing care professional about solutions for your tinnitus symptoms

Tinnitus is a highly individualized phenomenon. Therapeutic features will be more or less effective for your specific case depending on the root cause (if identifiable), type of noise heard, duration, intensity, and other factors. The only way to figure out which tinnitus therapy option will work best for your particular case is to consult with a hearing care professional who thoroughly understands tinnitus and the options available to treat it.

Leanne Powers, Au.D. is an Education Specialist for Sivantos, Inc. She trains customers and staff on products, software, and services. In this role, Leanne has given several lectures at AudiologyNOW! and numerous state conventions on a variety of topics, including compression in modern hearing instruments, frequency compression, and tinnitus therapy, as well as presentations specific to the company’s technology. Leanne practiced in a variety of hearing healthcare settings for 16 years prior to joining the Sivantos team. Most recently, she operated two hearing aid offices in the Chicago area.  Leanne received her undergraduate degree from Northern Illinois University, her graduate degree from RUSH University in Chicago, and her doctorate from A.T. Still University of Health Sciences in Arizona.