What is tinnitus?
Known more commonly as “ringing of the ears,” tinnitus is a condition in which people experience sounds where there is no external stimulus. The American Tinnitus Association (ATA) estimates that millions of Americans “experience tinnitus, often to a debilitating degree, making it one of the most common health conditions in the country.” Approximately 15% of Americans – over 50 million people – experience tinnitus, whether it is temporary or chronic. Approximately 20 million Americans experience chronic tinnitus, with 2 million experiencing debilitating cases.
Tinnitus and hearing loss
An estimated 80% of tinnitus cases go hand in hand with hearing loss. This is due to the relationship between hearing and inner ear hair cells. With presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) and noise-induced hearing loss, there may be degeneration to inner ear hair cells. Inner ear hair cells are responsible for translating sound vibrations into neural signals recognized by our brains as sound. Hearing specialists suggest that tinnitus may result from the degeneration of these hair cells, as they may send phantom signals to the brain, which is then registered as sound.
Types and Causes of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is usually not an isolated condition in and of itself. The appearance of tinnitus often points to other underlying health conditions. Identifying and treating tinnitus may lead to a reduction or elimination of the symptoms. The ATA notes, “While tinnitus is most often triggered by hearing loss, there are roughly 200 different health disorders that can generate tinnitus as a symptom.”
Objective tinnitus creates a sound that can be heard by people who sit nearby. Objective tinnitus comprises less than 1% of cases, and has been linked to circulatory or somatic systems in the body. Objective tinnitus takes the form of pulsatile tinnitus, in which increased blood flow or muscle spasms affect hearing. In some cases, pulsatile tinnitus is synchronous with the beating of the heart. Other cases of pulsatile tinnitus indicate a problem with the small muscles of the middle ear or the bones of the inner ear. Conditions such as high blood pressure and others that affect blood flow may lead to objective tinnitus. In these cases, by treating related medical conditions, people may find relief from tinnitus.
With subjective tinnitus, only the person experiencing tinnitus can hear the sound. Because our bodies and nervous systems differ from person to person, these sounds take many diverse forms. Subjective tinnitus is the most common form, comprising 99% of reported cases. Causes of subjective tinnitus include sensorineural hearing loss due to damage of inner ear hair cells (aging, exposure to loud noise, and even certain classes of ototoxic medication); Meniere’s disease; impacted earwax; or another related medical condition.
Tinnitus has the potential to contribute to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Tinnitus has been linked to memory problems, the ability to concentrate, and fatigue. Tinnitus has been known to affect a person’s emotional well-being, interfering with social interaction and employment.
There is no cure for tinnitus, but there is effective treatment. Because the majority of tinnitus cases are linked with hearing, seeking a hearing exam and consultation might be the first step to finding a solution. If your tinnitus is linked with hearing loss, your hearing specialist will provide options for hearing aids that will address both issues.
Many hearing aid manufacturers offer hearing aids with tinnitus therapy. Tinnitus therapy is most commonly sound masking – using tones or nature sounds to mask the frustrating sounds of tinnitus. There are also exercises available to provide relief and to train the brain away from hearing the sounds of tinnitus.
Hearing Aids with Tinnitus Therapy
At Glendora Hearing Aids & Audiology, we are well aware of the prevalence of tinnitus and hearing loss. We are proud to offer hearing aids from major manufacturers that are equipped with tinnitus treatment options.
Starkey Hearing Technologies: Multiflex Tinnitus Technology
Multiflex Tinnitus Technology is Starkey’s tinnitus treatment option, available on a number of hearing aid models: Halo iQ, Muse iQ, and SoundLens iQ. Multiflex Tinnitus Technology is fully customizable and is designed to provide all-day relief for the ringing in your ears. Wearers of Starkey hearing aids have control over their tinnitus relief, with fine-tuning that helps address your specific experience. As with all Starkey products, Multiflex Tinnitus Technology is user-friendly and easy to control, with memory and volume adjustments accessible with the touch of a finger.
Oticon: Tinnitus SoundSupport
Available on the Oticon OPN hearing aid, Tinnitus SoundSupport delivers a wide range of tinnitus relief sounds, including broadband sounds (white, pink, and red noise), and natural, ocean-like sounds. OPN wearers choose between different modulations and can discretely adjust their tinnitus therapy experience through the OPN ON app on iPhone or Android. With the understanding that tinnitus does not occur on its own, OPN helps reduce stress, which is a common trigger for tinnitus. Oticon also offers tinnitus counseling, combining relaxation practices and exercises for curbing the symptom of tinnitus.
Phonak: The Tinnitus Balance Portfolio
With the Tinnitus Balance Portfolio, Phonak has designed a holistic and comprehensive tinnitus care system with three main elements. A combination of Tinnitus Balance hearing aids, a broadband noise generator, and sound therapy through Apple or Android app provides wearers with relief from the sounds of tinnitus. Phonak Tinnitus Balance is available in a number of combinations: amplification only; amplification and Tinnitus Balance noise generator; Tinnitus balance noise generator only; and amplification plus Tinnitus Balance with ComPilot II. In order to design your own Phonak Tinnitus Balance Portfolio, you’ll meet with one of our hearing specialists and customize a plan to meet your specific needs.
Widex: ZEN Tinnitus Therapy
ZEN Tinnitus Therapy is one of the most comprehensive tinnitus treatment solutions on the market. Widex focuses on four main components to treat tinnitus: Counseling, Amplification, Relaxation, and ZEN Fractal Tones. Counseling assists newcomers to hearing loss, tinnitus, and hearing aids in adjusting to their devices and learning tricks to hear better. Additionally, having a guide along this journey helps reduce stress and anxiety. The Widex ZEN Tinnitus App allows wearers to customize their listening experience with ZEN tones, which provide relaxing synthetic tones to mask the frustrating sounds of tinnitus.
Signia: Tinnitus Therapy and Notch Therapy
All Signia hearing aids are equipped with tinnitus therapy, in the form of soothing sounds to mask the symptoms. Signia hearing aid wearers may customize their own tinnitus therapy signal, with options of five pre-programmed static sounds (such as white noise), or four nature-inspired sounds (such as ocean waves). These options help cover up the sounds of tinnitus, allowing you to focus on the sounds you want to hear.
Additionally, Notch Therapy is built-in with Signia hearing aids, providing a stronger solution to tinnitus. While static and nature sounds gently cover up the sounds of tinnitus, Notch Therapy takes a more aggressive approach, by reducing tinnitus sounds until they are no longer disturbing. Notch Therapy “re-trains” the brain to push tinnitus sounds to the background, which brings long-term relief.
Unitron: Tinnitus Masker
Available with Moxi hearing aids, Unitron’s Tinnitus Masker is a noise generator/sound enrichment source that stimulates the wearer’s auditory system. The Tinnitus Masker covers up the tinnitus sounds, while diverting the wearer’s attention to the sounds they want to hear. Using Unitron TrueFit software, the Tinnitus Masker can be easily activated and customized to meet your specific hearing needs. The volume and nature of the noise generator is also easy to control.
ReSound: Relief Tinnitus App
The ReSound Relief app provides wearers with a simple and discrete way to mask their tinnitus symptoms. This fully-customizable program is user-friendly, with simple controls on the Relief app, downloadable to your smartphone. The Relief app provides a number of customization options, including sound therapy combinations, relaxation exercises, meditation, and guidance. Tinnitus masking tones are streamed directly to your ReSound hearing aids, using Bluetooth technology.