Wake Forest Baptist Expands Tinnitus Treatment Options

July 15, 2015

Tinnitus - commonly referred to as ringing in the ears - affects more than 45 million people nationwide. According to the American Tinnitus Association, 16 million of these cases are severe enough that medical attention is needed and 2 million of these patients are so seriously debilitated that they cannot function on a day-to-day basis.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is now offering a noninvasive treatment that may provide many patients with relief from their tinnitus symptoms within two weeks.

The size of a small portable media player, the tinnitus treatment devices help manage and relieve symptoms by combining relaxing music and customized “white noise” with a high-frequency signal that covers the tinnitus sound. The devices are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and clinically proven to provide long-term tinnitus relief.

“By specifically targeting the root causes of tinnitus, these devices are able to provide both immediate relief and long-term reduction of symptoms as well as improvement with sleep, relaxation and concentration,” said Hailly Humphrey, Au.D., audiologist at Wake Forest Baptist.

Humphrey says that treatment usually takes place over a six-month period with patients wearing the device in their own environment around two to four hours each day. For many patients, the symptoms of tinnitus lessen within the first two weeks and continue to improve throughout the treatment process.

Tinnitus is often described as ringing, buzzing, hissing, humming, roaring, or whistling that is heard in the absence of any external sound. These sounds are a result of alterations to neurons in the auditory system. The brain interprets this altered activity as sound even though no external sound exists.

The exact cause of tinnitus is hard to specify, however, varying degrees of hearing loss and situational or prolonged exposure to loud noise have proven to be factors that contribute frequently to a diagnosis of this condition.

Other sources including stress, poor dietary habits, head and neck trauma, thyroid disorders and cardiovascular disease also have been identified as triggers that can worsen tinnitus symptoms.

"Treatment with these devices has shown to be effective for a wide range of tinnitus sufferers, from mild to severe cases," Humphrey said. "While this isn't a cure, it is a wonderful treatment option that individuals with this condition should consider.”

This treatment is currently not covered by most health insurance plans. But any individual considering this option should contact their coverage provider.

The tinnitus treatment devices used at Wake Forest Baptist are manufactured and distributed by Neuromonics Inc. of Westminster, Colorado. 

Media Relations

Shannon Putnam: news@wakehealth.edu, 336-713-4587