Tinnitus is a common problem. In fact, more than 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, the experience of sound, noise or ringing in the ears in the presence of sound in the environment. These sounds can vary from loud to soft, high pitch to low pitch and from constant to periodic. Tinnitus is very common in those who have hearing loss.
For most people, tinnitus is not a significant problem, but more of an irritation. For others, the tinnitus they experience can become a substantial disruption in their lives, affecting sleep and causing anxiety, stress and even depression. With a combination of counseling and sound therapy, the effects of tinnitus can be minimized.
The use of sound to minimize the effects of tinnitus is meant to help the brain habituate or become accustomed to the tinnitus. The type of sounds used can be amplified sound from hearing aids, environmental sounds, noise or music. A new type of sound used to help the brain habituate is called Zen fractal music and comes from a hearing aid manufacturer called Widex. Based on what is known as “fractal technology,” Zen music is a series of chime-like tones that play randomly but with a rhythm that is meant to mimic the resting heart rate. Each Zen program can be adjusted for tempo, pitch and volume.
The goal of Zen technology is to aid in relaxation in order to decrease the wearer’s aggravation and stress from continuous tinnitus and thus improve overall quality of life. The Zen music can be played by itself with no amplification of outside sounds or in addition to conventional amplification. A program that incorporates a low-level white noise along with the Zen music can also be programmed into the hearing aid. Each program is accessed through a push button on the hearing aid or by remote control. A survey performed by researchers at Widex revealed that the use of Zen fractal music as a way to decrease the severity of tinnitus is very successful. In fact, 85.7% of patients surveyed reported a reduction in tinnitus severity1.
The Zen fractal technology is found in all of the Widex Mind family of hearing aids. If tinnitus is a constant barrage of sound that causes stress or aggravation in your daily life, ask your adiologist today if Zen is right for you.
1 The Efficacy of Fractal Music Employed in Hearing Aids for Tinnitus Management, Francis Kuk, PhD; Heidi Peeters, MA; and Chi Lau, PhD; Hearing Journal Sept 2010
Have you ever heard a high-pitched ringing or buzzing sound in your ears? Some describe it as a whooshing sound or something that resembles a hissing sound, like air escaping a tire. Still others hear it as a roaring or pulsing sound. However you describe it, you’re not alone. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that nearly 50 million Americans experience some sort of head noise to some degree at least occasionally. 1 Of the 50 million sufferers of tinnitus, nearly 16 million experience it severely enough to seek medical attention. So, what is the ringing? Where does it come from? Is there a cure? Over the next several posts, I’d like to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about that annoying ringing sound, called tinnitus, and provide some insight into possible causes. And, if you’re one of the unlucky millions to suffer with tinnitus, take heart. Research into a long-term cure continues and several innovative treatments are available that are proving successful in decreasing the effects of tinnitus.
The word “tinnitus” comes from a Latin word meaning “to tinkle like a bell.” It is the perception of sound when there is no actual sound present. The word itself is pronounced TIN –i-tus by some and tin-ITIS by others. The correct pronunciation is debatable. In my opinion, it’s a case of To-MAE-to/To-MAH-to. However you say it, tinnitus is annoying for most and can interrupt sleep, affect mood and disrupt productivity at work and relationships at home. Even stress and depression are known to be associated with tinnitus. If you experience tinnitus, have your hearing checked by an audiologist. It’s the first step toward understanding a possible cause and to finding some relief.
A thorough evaluation can give insight into the possible cause of the ringing sound you experience in your ears, but there is no known cure. Tinnitus is not a condition in itself but a symptom of something else occurring in the body, such as hearing loss in the high frequencies, circulatory issues, jaw problems or a medical issue like a head or neck injury. Once you know the probable cause, your audiologist can discuss lifestyle modifications to improve the tinnitus and review the options for reducing the noise or at least the effects of the noise.
It’s also helpful to spend some time researching tinnitus; its causes and treatments. Sometimes, just having a bit of knowledge about what’s happening to you can decrease the aggravation and stress that not knowing can cause. In the next several posts, I hope to help you on that journey. We’ll begin with the two most common questions: What is Tinnitus and What Causes Tinnitus?
1 Data from the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Beauty is in the “ear” of the beholder. What may be noise to one person may be a beautiful melody to another. In fact, I distinctly remember my mother saying, “turn that racket off!” when all I wanted to do was turn the music up louder. I wish I would have listened. Now, I have a constant ringing sound, called tinnitus in my ears. The average person doesn’t realize that there are other noises, not just music, that occur in our daily lives that can be dangerous to our ears.
According to the Better Hearing Institute, 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous noise levels each day and 10 million Americans have already suffered irreversible hearing damage from exposure to noise. And, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 15% of American teens suffer from some measure of hearing loss. The sad part is that this type of hearing loss is completely preventable.
How loud is too loud?
Normal conversational speech occurs at approximately 60 decibels. A good rule of thumb is, if you have to raise your voice to be heard over the sound, it’s probably too loud to listen to for a long period of time. The length of time you can be exposed to a loud sound before permanent damage occurs depends on the volume of the sound. As the volume gets louder, the amount of time you are exposed to the sound should decrease in order to keep your ears safe. For example, exposure to 110 decibels (the volume of a chain saw) for only a few minutes without ear protection can be as damaging as an exposure to 85 decibels (the volume level of the typical lawn mower) for 8 hours.
What are the symptoms of noise induced hearing loss?
Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) usually develops gradually over time. It’s possible for someone to lose a significant amount of hearing before becoming aware of its presence. Often, the first sign of NIHL is a slight ringing sound in the ears that may only be noticeable in a very quiet environment, like when you are trying to go to sleep at night. If noise exposure continues over time, you might begin to notice that the high-pitched sounds are not as clear. I will often hear, “I can hear just fine, I just can’t understand what people are saying.” The high frequencies are responsible for the majority of the clarity of speech. NIHL affects the high frequencies.
People fail to notice the impact of unsafe noise exposure because it causes few symptoms and for most people, occurs gradually over time. Hearing loss is rarely painful. At first, the ringing sounds may go away several minutes or hours after the noise exposure ends. You might assume that if the symptoms disappear, the ears have returned to normal. Even in the absence of symptoms, some of the cells in the inner ear that are necessary for hearing clearly may have been permanently damaged or destroyed by the noise. With repeated noise exposure, more cells are destroyed and a permanent hearing loss is likely to develop.
How can I prevent noise induced hearing loss?
Hearing loss caused by excessive noise exposure is not reversible, but NIHL is preventable.
There are three general rules for preventing permanent hearing loss due to noise:
1) Understand what noises put you at risk. Remember, if you have to raise your voice to be heard, it’s probably too loud.
2) Decrease the volume whenever possible.
3) If in doubt, wear ear protection.
The American Academy of Audiology is leading the way to get the word out about noise induced hearing loss, especially to kids. The “Turn it to the left” campaign is educating kids and teens on the hazards of noise exposure in order to protect their hearing for a lifetime. To learn more about noise induced hearing loss or to determine whether noise exposure has damaged your hearing, contact your audiologist today.