Tinnitus can’t be cured, but patients with the condition can reduce its impact on their lives through device-driven habituation therapy. A new rehabilitation program at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and UTHealth Audiology provides comprehensive evaluation of the disorder and an advanced device for tinnitus management.
“Widex Zen Therapy is a new and unique approach to tinnitus management,” says Allison Boggess, AuD, an audiologist affiliated with the Department of Otorhinolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery at UTHealth Medical School. “We start with a professional evaluation in which we attempt to determine the pitch and loudness of tinnitus and evaluate minimum masking levels. We also ask patients to complete an inventory that helps us assess tinnitus severity and distress, related psychological processes and how tinnitus affects their daily lives.”
Based on the results, Dr. Boggess and her colleagues design patient-specific counseling plans that also include sound stimulation and relaxation exercises to reduce stress. Sound amplification is added for patients with any associated hearing loss.
“The effects of tinnitus can often be minimized by a combination of counseling and sound stimulation,” she says. “How an individual responds to tinnitus becomes a neural pattern. Using habituation therapy helps change that pattern of reaction so that the brain no longer focuses on the sound.”
Amplified sound from hearing aids and music or sound from noise generators help to minimize the contrast between the buzzing or ringing of tinnitus and the surrounding sound environment. “Widex Zen uses a quiet continuous, changing fractal tone similar to music,” Dr. Boggess says. “We adjust the device so that the sound is barely audible. By listening to a constant sound over time, patients learn to tune it out. That habituation process helps them learn how to tune out the ringing of tinnitus, which in turn reduces their stress.
“In the management of tinnitus, nothing is black and white,” she adds. “Because each experience is individual, habituation therapy is a process. We work closely with each of our patients to design a unique management plan for their particular experience of tinnitus.”