Understanding Tinnitus & Sound Sensitivities
Frequently asked questions
Are there instruments to Assist People with Tinnitus?
You may have noticed that when you are in a very quiet room your tinnitus becomes more noticeable. This increase of tinnitus is governed by the fact that we perceive the “value” or the volume of a sound based on the background information, or what comes with the sound. Does the sound come by itself, or, does it come with another sound or several sounds? Therefore, depending how “bright” or “dark” your auditory environment is, your tinnitus is perceived to be softer or louder.
This is why it is so important in tinnitus management to avoid silence. Existence of background sounds “brightens” up our “auditory room” and decreases the awareness to tinnitus. Also, presence of other sounds can be very positive because it can redirect your attention towards the other sounds rather than your tinnitus. And finally, certain sounds can be very soothing and relaxing, allowing us to feel better and to be able to manage tinnitus more efficiently. To achieve this purpose a range of devices or instruments may be considered for people with tinnitus.
There are five main categories of devices:
There is a high correlation between tinnitus and hearing loss. It is possible that whatever caused the hearing loss, may have caused the tinnitus as well. Nevertheless, the role of the central auditory nervous system still determines the perception and overall emotional experience with tinnitus and the same approach of sound enrichment applies whether the patient has hearing loss or not.
Amplification has been found to be extremely effective for patients with hearing loss who also experience mild bothersome tinnitus. Using hearing instruments reduces the stress associated with the inability to hear and also reduces the perception of the tinnitus by increasing environmental sound and decreasing the ratio of the tinnitus signal to the external signal.
A TPA certified audiologist is specifically educated in determining the most appropriate amplification for your individual hearing loss and be able to make the programmable adjustments that will provide relief for tinnitus as well.
Those patients that have hearing loss so severe that can not be helped with hearing instruments may be referred for cochlear implants. These are implantable devices which require surgical placement and assistance from audiologists specifically experienced with programming them.
Sound generators are small ear worn devices that provide a soothing sound similar to a shower or waterfall. The loudness of the sound is adjustable and can be used in habituation therapy such as TRT or in masking. Sound generators are often recommended when patients have no hearing loss, experience a severe reaction to tinnitus, or have hyperacusis.
Combination units combine the features of a hearing instrument and a sound generator. Combination units are used when a patient needs amplification for a hearing loss, but, also needs additional “neutral” sound to reduce the perception of the tinnitus.
Assistive Sound Therapy Devices
Any external sound changes the contrast between tinnitus and the environmental background. Therefore, any sounds which are introduced at a pleasant low level can be very helpful in managing tinnitus. Ideally, these sounds should not be meaningful and just provide background sound enrichment. Pleasant sounds you could consider include a small tabletop fountain, wind chimes or fan. Also available are table top sound machines, sleep pillows that connect to electronic devices and MP4 player with recordings of music and natural sounds specialized for the tinnitus patient.
Hearing Instruments, sound generators, combination instruments and specialized music therapy instruments are selected and properly fit by certified TPA audiologists. They can also provide or suggest assistive sound therapy devices to provide additional background sound which is particularly helpful in quiet environmental settings.