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Dr. Peter Marincovich, Ph.D. of Audiology Associates has revolutionized the way audiology and hearing diagnostics are performed and is highly versed in the latest treatments for helping patients manage tinnitus.
Tinnitus or persistent ringing in the ears is one of the most common health complaints in the country, affecting about 50 million Americans, many of them military veterans. According to the Veterans Health Administration tinnitus is the number one disability among Veterans which translates into a lot of people suffering from that annoying ringing in the ears with more than 21.8 million veterans in the U.S.
While audiologists have been helping patients, including veterans with tinnitus, to manage symptoms in a variety of ways spanning behavioral education, sound therapy and hearing aids, researchers are now focusing on unique new ways of alleviating symptoms. In the largest U.S. clinical trial of its kind funded by the Veterans Affairs (VA) Rehabilitation Research and Development Service, researchers at the VA Portland Medical Center and Oregon Health & Science University found that transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may significantly improve tinnitus symptoms.
Participants of this study received one pulse of TMS per second to the skull just above the ear, targeting the auditory cortex in the brain. Of the 32 participants who received the “active” TMS treatment, 18 people – more than half – reported an improvement in symptoms that lasted six months or longer.
In a similar research effort aimed at veterans involving investigators from the University at Buffalo; Southeast University in Nanjing, China; and Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, have reportedly made a significant breakthrough that provides new insights into how tinnitus, and the often co-occurring hyperacusis, (a condition that causes sounds to be perceived as intolerably loud), might occur and become persistent.
The results of the study suggest the neural network responsible is more wide spread than previously thought. The findings could lead to a testable model which identifies the regions of the brain that are responsible for causing these conditions. Researchers hope to eventually test the model by deactivating specific segments of the neural network eventually – aimed at relieving tinnitus and/or hyperacusis.
“Although research on the subject of tinnitus continues to bring hope for an eventual long term remedy, there is no cure as of yet,” explains Dr. Marincovich. “Tinnitus can sometimes be managed by treating the underlying cause, by altering reactions to it or by incorporating treatments that help reduce or mask the noise, making it less noticeable.”
An Overview of Symptoms
About 80 percent of people with tinnitus say they are not adversely affected by symptoms (mainly it doesn’t affect sleep or concentration). The rest who struggle with the errant noise can be susceptible to debilitating mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. As of yet, it is not yet understood why tinnitus affects people at such varying degrees.
Tinnitus manifests in patients most often as a persistent white noise type of sound when no external sound is present. Many people hear “ringing in the ears,” while other hear hissing, roaring, clicking or whistling which can occur intermittently or constantly. Patients report a variety of different tones with a perceived volume that can range from subtle to very loud. At its most distracting level it can interfere with sleep and impair concentration and affect mood.
Tinnitus can occur for a variety of reasons including:
* an ear injury or head trauma
* viral or bacterial infections
* genetic factors
* a circulatory system disorder
* the result of continuous exposure to loud noise
A result of inner ear cell damage, tinnitus affects the tiny, delicate hairs in the inner ear (which normally move freely in relation to the pressure of sound waves) causing them to become bent or broken. As these tiny hairs become damaged they can produce random electrical impulses to the brain, resulting in the many manifestations of tinnitus.
Treatments for Tinnitus
Commonly used methods of tinnitus management include; biofeedback, electrical stimulation, relaxation therapy, counseling, habituation therapies, tinnitus maskers and hypnosis. There is no known drug that has been clinically demonstrated to be effective in the elimination of tinnitus.
Tinnitus that is accompanied by hearing loss can frequently be managed with the use of hearing aids. There are many factors that determine whether a person will experience total or partial tinnitus relief using hearing aids. For patients who have a hearing loss in the frequency range of the tinnitus, hearing aids may bring back the ambient sounds that naturally mask the tinnitus noises.
One of the options for treating tinnitus today is sound therapy which combines low-level, steady background sounds played through a device and is used with intensive counseling that can take 12 to 24 months to reduce the effects of tinnitus.
“In some cases audiologists have long believed that the tinnitus may be originating from the central auditory cortex in the brain in response to trying to help the ear hear better,” says Dr. Marincovich. “When the ear hears better through appropriately fit amplification, which can restore ambient sounds and help fill Sound Voids™, often the tinnitus is minimized. This is a relatively new management therapy, though many patients are reporting excellent results. Some people benefit from the use of tinnitus maskers which produce sounds that “mask,” or cover up the ongoing noise made by the tinnitus.”
About Audiology Associates
In order to determine any underlying medical condition that may be causing tinnitus, a general physical exam is required, including personal history and a careful examination of the ears. Since tinnitus can be associated with a number of auditory conditions, a thorough audiologic evaluation will provide vital information regarding the cause and possible options for treatment.
For some people, tinnitus can cause a severe annoyance in everyday life. Dr. Marincovich works with patients of all ages and levels of hearing loss and our audiologists and staff carry decades of experience in helping patients manage the symptoms of tinnitus with state-of-the-art procedures and technologies.
Hearing care services are offered at our office locations in Santa Rosa, Novato, Mill Valley and Mendocino. Visit http://www.AudiologyAssociates-sr.com or call 707-827-1630 to make an appointment with one of our board-certified audiologists.