Toning Down Tinnitus

Hearing aids can offer double benefit: better hearing, less ringing.

For years, Phyllis DeVincentis endured a hissing in her ears that sounded like steam. Although she wasn’t imagining it, no one else heard it because nothing was really there. Phyllis has tinnitus, commonly known as “ringing in the ears,” and the noise was coming from inside her head.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Phyllis DeVincentis

Tinnitus can be a malfunction occurring within the hearing system and varies widely in sound and severity. It might resemble a constant buzzing, whistling, hissing or swishing.
“I can’t tell you when it began. It just started and that was it,” recounts Phyllis. “It was terrible.”
Originally from New York, Phyllis has lived in Florida for more than 40 years. She worked as a waitress after moving south and is now enjoying retirement at age 79. The aggravation of tinnitus has never slowed her down. On Fridays and Saturdays, she and her husband still like to go dancing, and she makes time for a weekly bowling game.
Eventually, her three daughters began to notice their mom seemed to be having trouble picking up on their conversations. “They said I couldn’t hear them. They’d speak to me and I didn’t hear what they said,” remembers Phyllis.
They convinced her that she should get her hearing checked, so Phyllis made an appointment to see Kelly Hansen, AuD, at Trinity Hearing & Balance Center. Phyllis’s first concern, however, wasn’t what she might be missing due to poor hearing. It was the constant hissing sound in her ears that really bothered her. After so many years of enduring it, she wanted relief.

Hearing and Tinnitus

“Many people have tinnitus and it doesn’t bother them,” says Dr. Hansen, “but there are others who are really troubled by it. The sounds they hear can keep them from sleeping at night and affect them throughout the day. People who have tinnitus can become very depressed.
“The hissing in her ears was really bothering Phyllis,” recalls Dr. Hansen. “The first thing we want to do when someone has tinnitus is to determine if hearing loss is present, so we do a diagnostic hearing evaluation. Tinnitus is often present when people have hearing loss. However, not everyone with tinnitus has hearing loss, so we need to rule this out first.”
Phyllis’s audiology test revealed she had a significant hearing loss. “She certainly needed hearing aids,” continues
Dr. Hansen, who fit Phyllis with two digital hearing aids. Although Phyllis was skeptical at first, Dr. Hansen assured her that the devices would help her hear better overall as well as help with the tinnitus.
Many people, like Phyllis, don’t notice their hearing has gradually become worse, says Dr. Hansen. Hearing loss
frequently occurs due to aging, as well as from exposure to heavy noise, like working in a factory or shooting guns. It can also be hereditary.
“Hearing loss can be so gradual that people sometimes don’t realize how much of a loss they have. Or they tend to say, Well, people are just talking a little softer or mumbling and if they would just talk louder, I’d hear them,” she continues.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Phyllis is delighted her hearing is improved and she no longer hears odd sounds caused by tinnitus.

Hearing aids have the capacity to help relieve tinnitus as well as improve the ability to understand conversation and hear what’s happening around you, says Dr. Hansen.
“There are many good studies suggesting a correlation between nerve damage (also known as sensorineural hearing loss) and tinnitus. Thus, when hearing loss is identified, often the tinnitus is relieved by hearing aids alone.
“The best known method to relieve tinnitus is sound therapy,” explains the doctor. “Sometimes just wearing hearing aids is enough to help the patient forget about the tinnitus as the brain turns its attention to the additional sounds it’s receiving.”
Certain hearing aids also have built-in sound therapy maskers, adds Dr. Hansen. They produce sounds like ocean waves that serve as gentle background noise and nudge the brain to stop processing the sound of tinnitus.
The speed at which relief from tinnitus occurs can vary, notes Dr. Hansen, depending on how much time the brain needs to adjust to the new sounds. For Phyllis, results came quickly. Only one week later, she was back in Dr. Hansen’s office to report her hearing was remarkably improved and the steam-like sounds from her tinnitus had gone away.
“It was unbelievable,” says Phyllis about the difference in her hearing. “I could hear everything, even papers moving. I could hear birds, and my husband talking to me, and my daughters talking to me.
“The steam in my ears wasn’t there anymore,” she reports, “but when I took the hearing aids out, I could hear steam again. I thought to myself, How did I ever live with that? But I did.”

Commitment to Patients

Phyllis made a fortunate choice in consulting Dr. Hansen at Trinity Hearing & Balance Center, where experience and dedication work together for the best outcomes.
Dr. Hansen has diagnosed and treated hearing, balance and dizziness disorders for more than two decades. In addition, her practice is AudigyCertified, which gauges a practitioner’s experience, credentials and expertise along with a commitment to patient satisfaction, continuing education and application of current technologies.
One of the unique aspects of Audigy’s service is ePatient, which helps explain complex topics to patients using digital tools. “The ePatient program is an educational tool that offers an overview of what’s going to happen during an appointment and explains how someone’s hearing works,” Dr. Hansen explains. “It is a treatment-focused software tool that enables us to quickly and effectively explain products and procedures to patients. ePatient has excellent visuals to show the patient how their hearing works and what happens when someone has a hearing loss.”
In addition to assistance with hearing-related problems and fitting patients with the appropriate hearing aids, Trinity Hearing & Balance Center also offers assistance with vestibular problems, such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) using the Epley Omniax® System, and balance disorders.
“We work side by side with our patients to help find a solution to their hearing problems,” assures Dr. Hansen. “Many patients who have gone through our Patient for Life program experience greater satisfaction with their hearing technology and a greater quality of life.”
Also, as a hearing aid wearer herself, Dr. Hansen can relate to her patients in a way many audiologists cannot.
“Dr. Hansen is wonderful,” confirms Phyllis. “I sent my daughter to her, and I sent another young lady who told me that going to Dr. Hansen was the best thing she ever did.”
Dr. Hansen’s skill and care in fitting Phyllis with hearing aids have made a big difference for the active retiree. “Being able to hear has improved my life one hundred percent,” she enthuses.

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    • Trinity Hearing & Balance Center

      Trinity Hearing & Balance Center utilizes state-of-the-art equipment to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of many different types of dizziness and balance disorders. You no longer have to "learn to live" with it. The great news is that diz... Read More

    • Kelly Hansen

      Dr. Kelly Hansen obtained her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana and her Doctorate of Audiology degree from Arizona School of Health Sciences in Mesa, Arizona.  Throughout her career, Dr. Hans... Read More

    • Nikki Goldowski-Richa, AuD

      Nikki Goldowski-Richa, AuD, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech and hearing in 2011 from Cleveland State University and her Doctorate of Audiology degree from the University of Louisville in 2015. She recently completed her clinica... Read More