Your hearing brain is pretty amazing. Every day it sorts through the beautiful, noisy world of sounds and automatically tunes out or lowers the ones that are disturbing or distracting. Which is why when you’re concentrating really hard on something, you might not notice someone calling your name. Sorry, Mom! But what would happen if instead of tuning out these noises, your brain actually created these annoying or distracting sounds? Well many studies suggest that’s exactly what happens with people who have tinnitus.
When you have tinnitus, you hear sounds even though there is no actual noise present. These “phantom” sounds can be a chirping, hissing, buzzing, whistling, humming, or beeping. All of these sounds are thought to be the brain’s way of compensating for a lack of auditory stimulation. In other words tinnitus may be a symptom of hearing loss. These symptoms can get worse depending on what you eat and how you feel emotionally. In fact, negative emotions can play a huge part in increasing this serious problem. How serious is tinnitus? Well for over 2 million Americans tinnitus is downright debilitating.
But there’s good news! Research has shown a treatment plan is the best way to help manage tinnitus. That’s because disturbances in different parts of the brain, including the limbic system, which is responsible for regulating sensory information and your mood, play key roles in the severity of tinnitus. Positive results seen through a multi-treatment approach, like stress relief (meditation, behavioral therapy, antidepressants) and an introduction of auditory sounds stimulation, aren’t just a fluke. In fact, hearing aid manufacturers have taken the positive results people have had with them. Below is a list of some top hearing aid solutions by manufacturer to help you develop a plan to lower the sound on your tinnitus.
Widex has developed what it calls Zen Therapy for tinnitus. This four sided program includes counseling for stress, a relaxation program focused on behavioral exercise and sleep management, and amplification to stimulate the hearing brain with fractal tones called Zen Tones which are meant to relax, stimulate, and mask tinnitus symptoms.
The centerpiece of this treatment plan is the Zen Tones available in many of their hearing aids as a feature. According to the manufacturer, “Widex ZEN uses fractal tones to help manage tinnitus.” These tones are processed in many different parts of the brain, not just auditory, and the manufacturer believes that makes them more effective.
But it all started with Widex’s Mind. Widex’s Mind was the first hearing aid designed with the Zen program and this hearing aid continues to benefit those with tinnitus. In addition to this comprehensive hearing aid, Widex has also introduced a hearing aid focused solely on tinnitus relief and not amplification. This tinnitus masking device is called Zen2Go.
In addition to their dynamic hearing masking for their Audeo V, Bolero V, and Virto V hearing aids, Phonak points out that stress relief, therapy, and acupuncture are all viable additions to any tinnitus relief plan. In fact, their website notes the importance of, “teaching patients skills like relaxation techniques that they can use to break the cycle—helping them reduce negative thoughts and lessening their anxiety.”
Phonak’s Tinnitus Balance Noise Generator as a feature of their hearing technology is the center of their tinnitus plan. The Balance Noise Generator, “Generates a pleasant [sic] noise which can reduce the annoyance of tinnitus and can be used in sound enrichment tinnitus therapies.” According to a study quoted on the manufacturer’s website, “5% [of people] who wore hearing aids gained relief either ‘frequently’, ‘most’ or ‘all of the time’.” In addition to their own programs that tinnitus sufferers can chose, there is a tinnitus hearing aid app available. With this app, individuals don’t have to be limited to only those sounds researchers have found useful, because they can create a library of personalized sounds.
Oticon’s focus on hearing and also with tinnitus relief centers on what they call BrainHearing™ technology. They note that hearing takes place in the brain not in the ears. The ears deliver the electronic impulses or sound to the brain where it is interpreted. And that’s true. That’s why, according to the manufacturer, “…Sound input needs to produce activity in the brain that is both reliable and synchronous…” Oticon’s well-founded approach to focusing on the brain in their hearing technology has driven them to create their Alta2 Pro Ti, Nera2 Pro Ti, and Ria2 Pro Ti that uses the Inium Sense processing platform in combination with Tinnitus SoundSupport™. According to the manufacturer, “Tinnitus SoundSupport™ feature that provides tinnitus relief sounds that can be used in conjunction with a tinnitus treatment plan. Tinnitus SoundSupport™ provides flexibility to suit each client’s preferences along with classic relief sound types, tinnitus SoundSupport can also be configured to produce nature-like relief sounds. The client can adjust the level of the relief sounds with the dedicated Tinnitus SoundSupport™ volume control.” Oticon’s research has shown sounds that are more “appealing” to individuals and more likely therefore to appeal to their brain. That’s why they have a series of sounds including their popular ocean sounds, white and red noise sounds that cover a broad spectrum and are rhythmically appealing.
Although there is no cure for tinnitus, research has shown treatment plans that include hearing technology and masking technologies, behavioral therapies and stress reduction can give people relief. Many hearing aid manufacturers, not just the ones mentioned here, provide unique tonal and hearing therapies. If you’re a little overwhelmed with all these choices and aren’t sure about finding the right fit for your tinnitus, talk to your hearing health provider, ask if you can test drive different hearing aids. If you need help finding a hearing health provider who can develop a tinnitus management plan with you, no worries, we can help! Call 800.550.5399 to get connected with a hearing professional in your area.