Tinnitus is often described as a ringing, buzzing, or roaring type sound in the ears or head and it affects millions of people. Tinnitus may be so severe that it interferes with sleeping, concentrating, and/or hearing. Causes of tinnitus may include noise induced hearing loss, excess wax in the ear canal, ear infections, side effects from medications, and injury to the head. However, the true physiologic mechanism behind tinnitus is unknown.
Tinnitus measurements may include a tinnitus loudness match and pitch match. These procedures are used to quantify the volume, pitch and maskability of the tinnitus. The maskability procedure attempts to determine the lowest level of broad band noise required for the tinnitus to be covered or inaudible.
Tinnitus management or treatment goals include reducing tinnitus awareness and reaction. Tinnitus awareness is reduced by using external sounds to reduce the perception of the tinnitus. Sounds that are beneficial may include the Neuromonics Oasis, white noise, pink noise, speech noise, high frequency noise, or zen type sounds. 60% of patients with hearing loss and tinnitus will benefit from hearing aids alone in reducing tinnitus awareness. Neuromonics Oasis is a customized sound device looking similar to a personal listening device, such as an Mp3 player or iPod. The sound produced by the device is based on the patient’s audiogram and tinnitus pitch. For more information, see http://www.neuromonics.com/. Sound generators are devices that look similar to hearing aids in style; however, they provide no amplification for hearing. The sound generators may produce a white noise which is a broad band noise or a pink noise which emphasizes low frequencies. In the near future, there will be sound generators that may be programmed by the audiologist to emphasize frequencies providing the best benefit for tinnitus sufferers. Some hearing aids provide not only amplification, but programmable noise or zen type music intended for tinnitus reduction.
The goal in tinnitus awareness reduction is to find a sound source that works for the individual patient. WUSM audiology tinnitus providers have demonstrations available of all the sound source options listed above. The reduction of the tinnitus reaction is achieved by counseling and educational sessions. In some instances, referrals to other professionals is beneficial in facilitating reduction of tinnitus reactions.
For more information on tinnitus, please visit the American Tinnitus Assocation.