Tinnitus is the presence of buzzing, whistling, humming, or beeping sounds in the ears that have no discernible source. People often refer to it as phantom noises. The sounds are very real to the person hearing them and can be both agitating and disheartening. There is no known cure for tinnitus, but new research has shed light on the condition and on possible ways to reduce the perception of noise level.
New tinnitus research indicates that the brain plays a large role in the presence of phantom sounds. Many times this happens because the brain is compensating for a lack of auditory stimulation. In other words, parts of the brain typically used to hear, aka process sounds, weaken with hearing loss and send off these false signals. Though there is no cure, research shows that a combined treatment approach can help to alleviate the sounds of tinnitus.
A combined treatment approach addresses the physical cause--80% of people with tinnitus have some level of hearing loss--and adds in proven coping techniques. Combined treatment may or may not include sound therapies or biofeedback as well. All of these elements help in different ways. Hearing aids increase sounds. Not only does that stimulate areas of the brain that may have been missing sounds, but it also has been shown to "drown out" the unwanted noises of tinnitus. A hearing aid user quoted on Phonak's website said of her experience, “I could immediately hear more and the tinnitus seemed to go down a couple of levels.”
Having the tinnitus go down a couple levels, so that it is no longer noticeable is the basic idea. In addition to hearing aids, an audiologist or hearing health professional will work with their patient to reduce stress and teach coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms, mindfulness induction, behavioral therapies all refer to the same thing when applied to tinnitus. They are tools that help someone with tinnitus counteract the mental and emotional effects of this condition. Why bother with learning these strategies? A recent study tasked people without tinnitus to try and accomplish a task while an annoying noise was played. Those who were told to ignore the sound were found to be more distracted and to give up more quickly on the task compared to those told to do nothing. Further, individuals given a mindfulness exercise to perform when hearing the sound performed at a level that suggested the exercise counteracted the effect of tinnitus. In addition to mindfulness exercises, behavioral therapy that reduce stress have been shown to help patients with tinnitus as have sound therapies.
Sound therapy can be paired with a hearing aid or be a device totally separate from a hearing aid. In the case of neuromonics, the device is separate. Neuromonics devices look a lot like your favorite music player. They are small devices that include a set of high-tech headphones. And like your favorite music player they produce sounds. These sounds are a combination of soothing music and broad frequency noises medically geared to coincide with your exact tinnitus.
Hearing aid manufacturers like Phonak have developed apps that can be used with hearing aids to create listener preferred sounds. According to the manufacturer, the Tinnitus Balance App, "...allows you to create a personalized library of sounds and music. Use these sounds to reduce how much you notice and are annoyed by your tinnitus." Link for iPhone OS Link for Android
Many manufacturers, not just Phonak, have created unique sound therapy that connects to hearing aids. If you're in the military and suffer from hearing loss, you've probably read that Oticon was awarded the contract for supplying hearing aids to the military. Oticon's Alta1 has designed a series of sounds on their hearing aids. According to the manufacturer, "tinnitus SoundSupport should be used for sound therapy in conjunction with tinnitus mangement programs. Tinnitus SoundSupport provides flexibility to suit each client’s preferences. along with classic relief sound types, tinnitus SoundSupport can also be configured to produce nature-like relief sounds. the client can adjust the level of the relief sounds with the dedicated tinnitus SoundSupport volume control." So that not only do users have the benefit of hearing better, but on days when the tinnitus seems worse, they can use these sounds to distract them from the unwanted noise.
See your hearing health professional or audiologist to learn more about combined therapies for tinnitus relief. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!