Blog | Opinion

By Maurice H. Miller, PhD

I was home this morning working on completion of some unfinished papers when a TV commercial announced they had finally come to a solution to the perennial problem of providing definitive relief  from tinnitus: Lipoflavonoids!  Apparently, lipoflavonoids are not only the solution but “highly recommended by ear doctors.”

Now I confess that I am not sure what “ear doctors” refers to.  Am I, for example, a Board Certified (AAA) Audiologist qualified to call myself an “ear doctor?”  Can an audiologist meet their criteria?  Are they referring to Board Certified Otolaryngologists-Head and Neck Surgeons?  What about Board Certified ENT’s whose practice is limited to the nose and throat?  Are they qualified?

Reviewing some more assorted materials online, I was happy to learn that “if you suffer from ringing, buzzing, or humming in your ears, help has arrived.”  The global leader in hearing health technology has engineered a new Tinnitus Treatment Solution designed to forever change the way people deal with their tinnitus problem.  Using patent-pending tinnitus technology, they claim this comfortable and nearly invisible device creates a customizable sound stimulus that you and a tinnitus hearing professional can fine-tune to soothe the irritating sounds you now hear.  They claim “you can take control of your tinnitus instead of letting it control you.”

Following this promise of control is a photo of a “behind the ear” hearing aid.  This is the device that is “small and comfortable to wear.”  The Tinnitus Treatment Solution is designed to deliver all-day relief from ringing in your ears.

So may I respectfully ask what if I also have and am most disturbed by my tinnitus at night when it is less masked by environmental sounds.  Does it work then?

Many of these ads keep referring to “professionals.” Who are they, and what or who makes them competent?  What professional training have they received to deal with this widespread problem?

Tinnitus, of course, can and often is associated with many causes, including but not limited to prior or existing noise exposure, a wide variety of medications, including aspirin, and even aging and/or presbycusis.  Patients with or suspected of having any of these or related problems should be seen by a medical professional—an otolaryngologist specializing in ear and hearing problems (rather than one whose primary interest is nasal surgery) and/or an audiologist.

Tinnitus patients should first be assured that no tumor of the auditory nerve or surrounding structures is present. Patients with such conditions often report unilateral tinnitus as the first sign of the problem. Granted, these are rare cases, but the seriousness of the condition warrants care when instructing consumers. In some cases, an MRI or C-scan may be part of the evaluation, when indicated.

Hearing aids have been shown to be one of the most effective treatments for a large population of people with tinnitus. However, hearing aids do not help all people and are essentially useless during bedtime—when tinnitus can become the most bothersome and worrisome, further increasing the patient’s anxiety level.

In my view, professionals who are dispensing hearing aids to treat tinnitus problems should have at least some specialized training in this area, and also become knowledgeable about recommending a continuum of options that can range from hearing aids, to counseling, to buying a fan, to obtaining a dedicated tinnitus sound generator and treatment program.

Tinnitus, while often associated with hearing loss, may also be an early and significant sign of a potentially serious health problem; it should not be ignored or minimized.  Tinnitus suppression devices are now widely advertised, but the significance of tinnitus as a warning sign of an “ear in distress” must not be forgotten or ignored.  Tinnitus diagnosis should precede treatment.

 

f05_millerMaurice H. Miller, PhD, is Professor Emeritus of Audiology at New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. Throughout his career, he has directed programs in Communication Disorders at some of the nation’s leading medical and academic institutions and spent over 40 years as the Chief Audiological Consultant to the New York City Department of Health. He is the author of five books, over 120 articles in peer-reviewed journals, and numerous monographs and chapters in audiology textbooks. Dr Miller was the second person to receive the Lifetime Career Award from the American Academy of Audiology, has received the ASHA Honors of the Association Award, and is a member of The Hearing Review’s editorial advisory board.
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