What is Tinnitus

Many people perceive a ringing, buzzing, hissing or even clicking sound in their ears even when the sound does not exist in their environment. This phenomenon is known as tinnitus. Tinnitus is very common and affects almost 15% of the general population; the prevalence is even higher in those with hearing loss.
Tinnitus is not a disease on its own but a symptom of an underlying condition. Most of the time, it is a symptom of a hearing loss which could be from noise damage or simply aging. In other cases, it may come as one of many symptoms in conditions like vascular or thyroid diseases, impacted wax in the ear canal, concussions, use of medications like certain diuretics or chemotherapy drugs, and even TMJ disorders of the jaw.
Although tinnitus is common and most people can cope with it, there are some people who find the tinnitus to be debilitating. In those cases, they may experience anxiety, depression and even a sense of hopelessness around their tinnitus.
If you have tinnitus, it is worthwhile to learn about what it is and how we may be able to manage it.

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Management of Tinnitus

As tinnitus can be caused by many conditions, the underlying physiological changes causing this symptom differ from person to person. The symptom itself can also vary greatly between individuals, such as the pitch and volume of the tinnitus, as well as how often it occurs. Since tinnitus is so highly variable, it is hard to precisely name one treatment that is effective for all patients.

In some cases where the tinnitus is due to conditions that can be treated with medicine or procedures (i.e. in some musculature, vascular or thyroid diseases), the tinnitus may improve as the underlying condition is resolved. This highlights why tinnitus is an important symptom to bring up with your doctor.

In many cases where the tinnitus is due to a hearing loss, there is no medical treatment to make the tinnitus go away; however, there are ways to manage the tinnitus. The first option works by diverting attention away from the tinnitus. For those with hearing loss and tinnitus, the best option is to wear hearing aids because they not only treat the person’s hearing loss, they also increase the person’s awareness of the sounds around them, making the tinnitus less prominent. Sound maskers also work similarly, where a machine plays sounds like “white noise” or relaxing ocean waves in the background to deflect one’s attention from the tinnitus.

Other therapies work on the premise that many individuals have tinnitus and are able to cope; those who have bothersome tinnitus may not necessarily have louder or more frequent tinnitus but they have more negative, and sometimes even unfounded, emotional responses about it. Therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy and tinnitus retraining therapy both aim to correct for negative responses to the tinnitus, thereby reducing the stress and anxiety the individual has around the tinnitus.

There is also research to show that tinnitus is worsened by stress and fatigue so a simple and conservative management option is to engage in activities that reduce stress (i.e. exercise more, learn meditation, listen to relaxing music) and improve sleep (i.e. reduce monitor time before sleep, regulating sleeping schedule, no caffeine before sleep).

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How Can We Help With Your Tinnitus?

At Ultima Hearing Centre, we can assess your hearing levels to see if you have hearing loss along with the tinnitus. We can then discuss ways of managing your tinnitus. We offer hearing aids with built-in tinnitus programs that can play noises to mask the tinnitus. If you do not have hearing loss or are not interested in hearing aids, we also have sound generators that can be put on your table or bedside to create background sounds to mask your tinnitus.

Lastly, we offer a sound therapy called Sound Options. It is an exciting new product that is FDA-approved and has undergone clinical trials at McMaster University to show that it is effective for 90% of individuals.

What is Sound Options?

Compared to the other management options listed above, Sound Options is a relatively new tinnitus therapy developed by neuroscientists at McMaster University. The theory is that when an individual has hearing loss, it changes the amount of stimulation provided to the brain, which in turn leads to changes within the brain. These changes lead to the perception of tinnitus.

Based on this theory, the researchers developed a computational model, now known as Sound Options, that uses the pitch of the individual’s tinnitus, along with information about their hearing levels, to predict the changes in the brain that took place to cause the tinnitus. From this, they create customized music files just for that patient that is designed to retrain and revert the undesired changes in their brain. All the patient needs to do is listening to the music files for 2 hours a day – it can be done in 20 minute intervals throughout the day while multi-tasking (i.e. while doing chores or paperwork) or even while sleeping. Improvements are expected after 3 to 6 months of use.

Clinical trials at McMaster University were conducted to evaluate exactly how much benefit this system has for tinnitus sufferers and it was shown that after consistent daily use, individuals perceived a 20% decrease in their tinnitus after 3 months and then a 40% decrease when re-evaluated at 12 months. This had very practical and long-lasting effects on their reported quality of life, including better sleep and reduced feelings of negativity (i.e. frustration, anxiety, depression…etc.) around the tinnitus. Other concrete improvements included reports that the tinnitus became softer and less frequent, making it more manageable. What is more exciting is that this therapy was effective for 90% of the participants, meaning that most tinnitus-sufferers can benefit from this treatment.

Its effectiveness has been reported in various media channels, such as CBC and the Globe and Mail, and this therapy has won awards from the Ontario Brain Institute and the Ontario Centre of Excellence.

For more information about Sound Options, please visit their website at: http://soundoptions.ca

I want to try Sound Options – where do I start?

If you are interested in the Sound Options tinnitus therapy, the first step would be to schedule a complimentary consultation at our clinic. There are certain groups of individuals for which Sound Options is not recommended and we will determine whether you are a suitable candidate for this treatment. Once you have been approved for the treatment, we will then perform a comprehensive hearing test and guide you through an online questionnaire to identify the nature of your tinnitus. This information will be sent to the Sound Options company where they will create your customized set of music files, targeted to revert your tinnitus.

Is the Cost of Treatment Covered?

Some workplace or third-party insurance plans provide coverage for tinnitus treatments. Hence, it is worthwhile to contact your insurance company before your consultation.

As per Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), a worker could be eligible for a tinnitus device or treatment if they have a tinnitus claim based on the WSIB policies for tinnitus. The tinnitus must be related to occupational noise. Each request is reviewed on a case by case basis; however, the WSIB will typically allow coverage for Sound Options if the tinnitus claim is accepted.

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