Masking Agent

Annoying noise of tinnitus blocked out by high-tech hearing aids.

With his 50-year working career as a subcontractor now in the rearview mirror, Sal Munizzi is finally taking time to do the things he and his wife couldn’t when Sal was busy building his business. Travel is at the top of the couple’s new to-do list.

Sal’s hearing aids include a masking program that allows him to effectively manage his tinnitus.

Sal and his wife visited relatives in Italy and saw some other parts of Europe last year, but with the coronavirus compromising travel, Sal now intends to travel domestically in the “new toy” he bought himself this past August.

“I had a second home in North Carolina that I used to travel to in the summer, but I sold it and bought an RV,” Sal says. “We’re in the process of planning some trips with friends. I think we’ll hit the Keys for a little fishing first and take it from there.”

Sal doesn’t necessarily prefer driving over flying, but after what happened to him on his flight across the pond to Europe last year, he’s more than happy to stay on the road and avoid the air for a while.

“On the flight over to Europe I had a little congestion in my nose and sinuses, and when the plane started to descend, I felt a lot of pain in my eardrums,” Sal says. “They felt like they were going to pop, but they never did.

“The entire time we were in Europe, which was about 12 days, my hearing wasn’t right. It was all plugged up. We took a cruise from Rome back to Miami, and it wasn’t until we got back to the States that my ears finally popped.

“After they popped, though, this strange noise started up in my right ear. It was like crickets out in the woods chirping. It got so bad that I actually had panic attacks over it, so I went to see a couple of doctors and was eventually told I needed to see an audiologist.”

Sal conducted his search for an audiologist and based on location and the favorable reviews he read of the practice, he visited Gulf Coast Audiology in Fort Myers. That’s where he was placed in the care of Elizabeth Burns, AuD.

Varying Levels of Annoyance

Dr. Burns began her care of Sal with a comprehensive evaluation that showed Sal had a significant high-frequency hearing loss in both ears. As for the sound of crickets chirping, that was tinnitus. Often referred to as ringing in the ears, tinnitus can present itself as a varying or constant humming, ringing or buzzing sound. It is known to affect between 10 and 15 percent of the population, some severely.

“Tinnitus varies in its levels of annoyance, but a quarter of those who suffer from it suffer to a degree so great that it negatively impacts their daily lives,” says Drianis Duran, AuD, of Gulf Coast Audiology. “When that happens, it becomes necessary to seek medical attention for it. In those cases, the brain becomes so focused on the tinnitus that it causes stress and anxiety. That’s where Sal was when he came to us. He was losing sleep and was so focused on his tinnitus that he was having panic attacks.”

Unless it develops as a side effect from medication or a change in diet, tinnitus usually cannot be cured. It can, however, be treated and is often done so through the use of hearing devices that can be connected to a tinnitus masking program.

“I’m a lot more relaxed and I’m not getting the panic attacks like before, so the hearing aids have helped me a lot.” – Sal.

A tinnitus masking program can be controlled through an app on a smartphone and can generate a wide array of sounds such as ocean breezes, white noise or rustling winds that can block the sound that is causing the annoyance.

Dr. Burns started her treatment of Sal by fitting him with just such a program. For Sal, though, the sounds generated by the external app didn’t provide enough of a distraction to take his mind off the tinnitus.

Dr. Burns then put Sal into an advanced pair of hearing aids, one for each ear.

“The reason for that is because Sal does have a severe hearing loss,” Dr. Burns explains. “Sometimes, when you restore the ability to hear speech and environmental sounds, the annoyance caused by the tinnitus dissipates.”

Center Stage

Sal Munizzi

“Think of it like this,” Dr. Duran adds. “If there’s an absence of sound due to hearing loss, the tinnitus is going to take center stage. So naturally, a person with tinnitus is going to focus on that one sound.

“When you restore the sounds you normally hear, the brain receives those sounds as well, so now, you’re naturally masking the tinnitus. And for patients who still need a little more help, there are hearing aids that come with tinnitus masking programs in them.”

The model of hearing aids Sal received is the Phonak Marvel 90s. They include a built-in tinnitus masking program that can produce many sounds, but they do far more.
They also include Bluetooth technology that allows the wearer to stream sounds from an exterior source such as a TV, phone or computer through the hearing aids and programs that can reduce ambient noises in crowded surroundings.

“They’re quite the instruments,” Sal says. “I’m amazed at all the things you can do with them, but I’m most pleased, of course, with how it’s helped me deal with the tinnitus. It’s still there, but I use a white noise sound to block it out, and it’s working very well.

“The tinnitus doesn’t bother me during the day because I’m so busy, but at night when there’s no noise, I still notice it sometimes. So I play some mellow music, and that helps.

“The tinnitus is only in my right ear, so when I go to bed I usually leave the hearing aid in my right ear and take the other one out. By playing that mellow music in my right ear, that helps me fall asleep. And, like I said, it’s working out really well.

“I’m a lot more relaxed and I’m not getting the panic attacks like before, so the hearing aids have helped me a lot. I can’t thank Dr. Burns and Dr. Duran enough for their help. They’re great, and I absolutely recommend them.”

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    • Gulf Coast Audiology

      Gulf Coast Audiology is owned and operated by Drianis Duran, AuD, a board-certified doctor of audiology. Gulf Coast Audiology offers the highest quality hearing aids, service, repairs, accessories and batteries. They also specialize in vestibul... Read More

    • Drianis Duran, AuD

      Drianis Duran, AuD, is a board-certified audiologist with clinical expertise in the areas of hearing loss and dizziness and balance disorders. She holds credentials from the American Board of Audiology, the American Academy of Audiology, the A... Read More

    • Elizabeth Burns, AuD

      Elizabeth Burns, AuD, is a board-certified audiologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss and balance disorders. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida. She earned her Doctor of Audio... Read More