Friday, May 31, 2013

Phonak's Tinnitus Balance App

Phonak Hearing Instruments has created a free App to help patients with tinnitus. The Tinnitus Balance App is designed to be part of a comprehensive treatment strategy for patients who struggle with the variety of noises generated by tinnitus.

Tinnitus impacts millions of individuals across the globe. The sounds it generates have been described as roaring, whooshing, clicking, and chirping, or white noise, pink noise, and tonal noise. Providing relief from the noises of tinnitus is one of the primary objectives of the audiologist. To do this, sound therapy is often used to "distract" the individual and lessen the perceived level of severity of the sounds of tinnitus. This is where Phonak's Tinnitus Balance App can be used effectively. 

The Tinnitus Balance App enables the user to select sounds from a mobile device's music library. It also contains a list of default sounds divided into three categories: soothing, background, and interesting. The user can rate how well each sound provides relief or distraction from the noises generated by tinnitus and share this information with the audiologist or treating physician. The App also contains a timer that can be used when the individual is about to fall asleep.

For more information on Phonak's Tinnitus Balance App, click here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Research on Noise-Induced Tinnitus

The Hearing Review recently highlighted new research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine that identified a cause for noise-induced tinnitus and a drug that prevents its onset. Thanos Tzounopoulos, Ph.D., led a research team that used the FDA approved epilepsy drug retigabine to prevent the onset of tinnitus in mice following exposure to loud noise. 

Dr. Tzounopoulos and his team focused their research on a particular area of the brain where mechanisms involved in producing "phantom" sounds are known to reside- the dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN). The Hearing Review depicts the research methodology the following way:

From previous research in a mouse model, [Dr. Tzounopoulos and his team] knew that tinnitus is associated with hyperactivity of DCN cells, which fire impulses even when there is no actual sound to perceive. For the new experiments, they took a close look at the biophysical properties of tiny channels, called KCNQ channels... 
“We found that mice with tinnitus have hyperactive DCN cells because of a reduction in KCNQ potassium channel activity,” Tzounopoulos said. “These KCNQ channels act as effective ‘brakes’ that reduce excitability or activity of neuronal cells.” 

Tzounopoulos and his team tested whether an FDA-approved epilepsy drug called retigabine, which specifically enhances KCNQ channel activity, could prevent the development of tinnitus. 
The researchers found that mice that were treated with retigabine immediately after noise exposure did not develop tinnitus. “This is an important finding that links the biophysical properties of a potassium channel with the perception of a phantom sound,” Tzounopoulos said. “Tinnitus is a channelopathy, and these KCNQ channels represent a novel target for developing drugs that block the induction of tinnitus in humans.” 
This research offers hope for a potential medicine that could prevent noise-induced tinnitus! 

For more information on this research and the source of this article, click here.

Image provided courtesy of dream designs of

Thursday, May 23, 2013

How Tinnitus Is Diagnosed

Who treats tinnitus?

Many medical disciplines treat tinnitus. These include:
  • Primary Care Physicians/Family Doctors
  • Otolaryngologists (ENTs)
  • Neurologists
  • Audiologists
  • Chiropractors

Tinnitus Causes:

About 85% of individuals evaluated for a tinnitus disorder can get relief! Because there are so many causes, two purposes of the tinnitus evaluation is to determine the cause and rule out significant medical problems that may be causing the problem.

Tinnitus may be due to high or low blood pressure, diabetes, anemia, thyroid problems, allergies, ear wax, infection, a hair from the ear canal stuck to the eardrum, and a variety of other minor and major factors. The significant effects of tinnitus include:
  • Interrupted or restless sleep
  • Depression, anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Stress connected to changes in tinnitus

Tinnitus Evaluation

The audiologist will take a careful history, review other records, measure the impact using an instrument such as the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory, test other aspects of the hearing mechanism- all to create "the big picture" or the severity, the history, and the probable cause. This, ofcourse, varies on the individual, so by definition, must be individualized. Other aspects will include a diagnostic hearing evaluation, otoacoustic emissions, tympanometry and impedance testing, tinnitus matching of frequency and loudness. The treatment varies, based on the results.

Tinnitus Treatment

A 2012 literature seach of tinnitus research shows that for a high precentage of individuals who experience significant tinnitus, the most helpful treatment is properly fit open digital hearing aids and cognitive behavior therapy. This is because nearly 90% of individuals with tinnitus have a hearing loss that will benefit from hearing aids and do not know it. For others, learning the cause, quantifying the cause, receiving support, and determining if the tinnitus can be reduced by external noise makers, and that the sound can be reduced, is sufficient.

How is tinnitus treated?

Image provided courtesy of chainat of

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Role of Hearing Aids in Tinnitus Management

People with tinnitus no longer "just have to learn to live with it." Advances in tinnitus research have yielded treatment strategies that promise some measure of relief from the noises generated by this condition. Hearing instruments have become an effective way of providing relief from tinnitus. Dr. Richard Tyler, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Iowa, has been a leader in tinnitus research and management. He details the benefits of using hearing aids as a treatment for hearing loss and tinnitus the following way:
There's lots of evidence to suggest now that hearing aids can help tinnitus patients. You can think about this in two different ways. First of all, hearing aids help people hear better, and they therefore reduce the stress of listening hard, reduce the stress of not understanding what's going on in your environment, and enable you to interact with friends. Also, being able to hear is wonderful for providing a positive outlook on the future. All these things provide patients with the background to be in a better position to deal with the stress involved in not having control of their tinnitus. In addition to that, hearing aids activate the auditory system in a similar way to some of the sound therapy devices. Many patients often say that the activity throughout the auditory system provided by the hearing aids makes their tinnitus less noticeable or less loud.

For more information on tinnitus treatment and the source of this article, click here .

Image provided courtesy of OhMega1982 of

Monday, May 20, 2013

When Do Hearing Aids Become Obsolete?

Few things are more frustrating than the release of new computer technology that renders personal computer hardware and software obsolete. It is now reasonable to expect a computer to become "obsolete" within a few years of its purchase. Yearly releases of new operating systems and software application updates make it difficult to use a computer that is over 3 years old without serious limitations and, sometimes, costly hardware upgrades. 
We often assume that this type of obsolescence also applies to hearing aids. However, a careful examination of hearing aid technology proves otherwise.
  • While hearing aid manufacturers release new technology twice a year (April and November), these advances do not make "older" hearing aid models obsolete. Changes in hearing usually happen slowly and incrementally. Because of this, an audiologist will recommend a hearing instrument with enough "head room" to reflect an individual's hearing changes over time. Should hearing change, the audiologist "dials in" more amplification to keep pace with the changes.
  • Therefore, while newer hearing aids may contain features not available in a user's current model of hearing instrument, it does not impact the device's ability to compensate for reasonable changes in hearing for several years.
  • Proper care and maintenance of the hearing aids, bi-annual hearing evaluations, and a skilled audiologist will enable maximal benefit for years to come.
  • Some advances in hearing technology come in the form of firmware and software upgrades for the devices. These upgrades are installed by linking the current instruments and/or accessories to the audiologist's computer
The introduction of new technology may not apply to everyone's hearing loss or hearing needs. Most advances in hearing aid technology apply to the most common type of hearing loss: mild to moderate sensorineural, especially in the higher frequencies. Less frequently, improvements are released after FDA review for people with severe to profound hearing loss, single-sided deafness, ultra high frequency loss, infants with severe to profound hearing loss, etc. 
The take-away message should be: what is the "latest and greatest" may not apply to your hearing needs. When a new device is released that could benefit an individual, it does not make the current hearing aid less effective. It merely means that the user will have yet another option when the time comes to purchase new hearing aids. 
With this in mind, how do we know when it's time to purchase new hearing aids? When does a hearing aid become "outdated"? Next blog...

Photo provided courtesy of nuttakit of

Friday, May 17, 2013

Oticon's ConnectLine and StreamerPro

Oticon's ConnectLine and StreamerPro work together to wirelessly transmit the audio of cell phones, landline phones, music players, televisions, and computers directly to both hearing aids. The StreamerPro is a type of remote control and boasts up to eight hours of battery life. The StreamerPro positions the user to:
  • Converse clearly on cell phones and landline phones
  • Watch television with friends and family without volume concerns
  • Use the hearing aids as "headphones" for handheld music players
  • Utilize the ConnectLine Microphone. The Connectline Microphone is a small mic that clips onto an individual and streams the audio of his or her voice to the user's hearing aids. This is ideal for use in difficult listening environments like a car, restaurant, or lecture hall.
For more information on Oticon's ConnectLine and StreamerPro, click here.
Oticon has also released an App for smart phones and tablets. Click here for more information.

Image provided courtesy of kromkrathog of

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Siemens miniTek Remote Control and Streamer

The Siemens miniTek is a remote control and streamer that works with all wireless hearing instruments made by Siemens. As a remote control, the miniTek can adjust the volume level of your hearing aids. As a streamer, the miniTek wirelessly transmits the audio of a cell phone, handheld music player, and television to both hearing instruments.
The wireless functionality and audio streaming capability of the miniTek promotes speech understanding on the telephone. It also makes it possible for families to watch their favorite television programs together without volume concerns. Unlike other devices used to help people hear the television by wearing a headset, miniTek users can communicate with others while watching the TV without removing a headset.
For more information on the miniTek, click here.
Siemens has also released an App that turns a smartphone into a miniTek.
Click here for more information.

Monday, May 13, 2013

How Lifestyle Influences Hearing Aid Choice

Hearing loss, speech-in-noise intelligibility, lifestyle, and budget are all major factors an audiologist must consider when helping an individual choose the appropriate hearing instruments and accessories. In considering the patient's lifestyle, the audiologist will address the following questions:
  • Is it difficult to follow conversations in noisy environments? How well do you understand rapid speech?
  • Are you a public speaker? Do you work with women and children on a frequent basis? Are children and women’s voices more difficult to understand?
  • Do you attend lectures or public speaking engagements in large environments on a frequent basis? Are you a student or regular church attender?
    • In each case, a hearing aid with advanced digital noise suppression, bluetooth connectivity, and frequency compression features would provide real benefit.
  • Are you physically active? Do you work outdoors or like to swim, fish, or kayak?
    • A waterproof or water-resistant hearing aid would be ideal.
  • Do you work in a dusty environment? Are you a craftsmen? Do you work with wood?
    • A dustproof hearing aid would be ideal.
  • Do you play golf frequently or participate in outdoor activities?
    • A hearing aid that has advanced wind noise reduction features would be beneficial.
  • Do you have difficulty conversing on a landline and cell phone? Do you have difficulty hearing the television?
    • Wireless accessories that stream the audio of the phone and television directly to both hearing aids would be ideal.   
  • Do you have tinnitus?
    • A hearing instrument can be dispensed that provides relief from tinnitus.

For more information on how to choose the right hearing instruments, click here.

Friday, May 10, 2013

An App That Helps You Protect Your Hearing

RGB-Studio has created an App that helps you determine the volume level of any environment. "TooLoud" is a live graph that monitors and details the fluctuating decibel level of any room. It also informs you immediately if it is potentially damaging to your hearing. This App is free of charge and can be found here.

Image provided courtesy of ddpavumba of

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How Hearing Loss Impacts the Choice of Hearing Aid

An individual's particular type and degree of hearing loss is one of the major factors an audiologist considers before recommending a style and model of hearing aid.
  • For example, if an individual has a high frequency hearing loss with a normal low frequency response, a hearing aid that permits low frequencies to enter the ear normally while allowing only high frequencies to be amplified would be ideal. This is called selective amplification. However, if the individual with this type of hearing loss chooses a hearing aid that totally plugs the ear canal, the effect is often an artificial sound.
  • If an individual has a moderate to severe hearing loss in the low frequencies, almost any model of hearing aid can be adapted to the hearing loss.
  • As an individual's hearing changes, the hearing aid will need further adjustments. It is important to select a model of hearing aid your audiologist can adjust should your hearing change. If you select a model that is barely within the fitting range for that model and your hearing drops, you will have to buy a new hearing aid.  It's imperative to pick a model of hearing aid with "head room"!
For more information on how to choose the right hearing instrument, click here.

Monday, May 6, 2013

New Hope for Tinnitus Treatment

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is the most common disability among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. In fact, the U.S. Veterans Administration now pays around $1 billion annually in disability payments related to tinnitus. For these reasons, the Department of Defense and several others are funding or conducting multiple research studies to find new treatments for tinnitus with the hope of eliminating and/or reducing the noises it generates. 

  • Draper Laboratories has been commissioned by the DOD to create a small device that would be inserted into the inner ear and deliver small doses of medicine directly to the cochlea. This delivery method would prevent the Eustachian tubes from discharging the medicine before it can accomplish its intended effect. Draper also hopes to embed wireless communications into the device so that a physician or patient can control the dosage. The capsule would dissolve after the supply of the medicine has been exhausted.
  • Otonomy Inc. is developing a sustained released dexamethasone gel that could be injected into the middle ear. Once injected, the gel would stay in place and dissolve slowly with the intention of calming nerves whose hyperactivity elevate the noises generated by tinnitus.
To read the article this information is taken from, click here.

For more information on the causes and treatment of tinnitus,
click here.

Image provided courtesy of kromkrathog of