Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
For those living with tinnitus, it almost seems impossible to remember life without all the noise in your ears (or head). At first, this might not seem like a serious problem; in fact, it may remind you of when you went to a concert and came home, and your ears would ring for a couple of days. But, now that you are getting older, that tinnitus is most certainly a sign that there is significant damage to your hearing system.
Diagnosing and treating tinnitus is a complex process, so complex that most people are told there is nothing that can be done about it. But Dr. Keith Darrow and his team of hearing healthcare specialists at Excellence In Audiology can help to reduce the tinnitus in nearly 80% of patients they work with. Darrow said, "The challenge with tinnitus is making the proper diagnosis and then developing the correct, custom treatment plan. No two people with tinnitus are alike, and therefore our treatment plans are tailored to meet each patient's tinnitus and hearing needs".
Steve R., a resident of Utah, and one of Darrow's many patients, knows from personal experience the stress, anxiety, lack of sleep and inability to focus on his work that came with his tinnitus. Several years back, Steve first noticed his tinnitus only at night, or when the house was really quiet, but over time, he started to notice it more and more, and eventually it would get in the way of his ability to hear others. He describes what finally brought him to Darrow's clinics, "I was sick of the ringing in my head. I was losing sleep, was not productive at work, and I was becoming less tolerable to be around at home. I was so desperate that I tried the magic pills, but nothing seemed to work."
Steve, his wife and his two daughters knew something had to change or things would only get worse for all of them. Once they made the family decision for Steve to seek treatment at their local Excellence In Audiology certified clinic, they instantly knew he was in good hands. Steve and his family met with Darrow's team for nearly an hour to talk about his experiences, how his tinnitus was impacting him at work and at home and how it was impacting everybody around him. They also discussed Steve's goals for treatment.
Once Steve got through all of the testing, the diagnosis was clear. Steve, like over 90% of people with tinnitus, had been suffering with damage to his hearing system and this was the root cause of his ringing. As Darrow explains, "Damage to the ears, be it from age, noise or even medications, can compromise the neural connections from ear to brain and cause a significant increase in neural activity in higher brain centers, which the person then perceives as tinnitus."
Steve and his family were told that once he started treatment that it could take his brain anywhere from a few weeks to 6 months to adapt and notice relief from his tinnitus.
Some of Darrow's patients get a little anxious when they hear that timetable for recovery, but he believes it is important that patients have realistic expectations for treatment. "Every patient is looking to live a ring-free life as quickly as possible and that is our goal with every patient, but the brain can take time to rewire and adapt in order to silence the tinnitus," said Darrow.
Steve started treatment on day one and he instantly knew he was on the road to recovery. Since he had been experiencing his tinnitus for several years, he knew treatment wouldn't be an overnight success, so he went about his daily life as a graphic designer, husband, father, and avid cook.
Steve said, "I knew I signed up for treatment that wasn't an instant cure, and so I expected some days would be better than others, but I wasn't going to give up! I decided that I was going to follow my doctor's treatment plan to the 'T.' I woke up every day and started using my treatment devices, and I kept them in until the end of my day. It certainly helps that I couldn't see or feel them because of how small the new technology is."
Patience paid off for Steve, and after his first 60 days of treatment he is now living a tinnitus-free life, sleeping better, hearing better, performing better at work, and is much more pleasant to be around at home.
Darrow emphasizes that cases like Steve are all too common and are too often dismissed by primary care physicians. "With the right diagnosis and proper treatment program, nearly 8 in 10 people with tinnitus can experience significant relief from the annoying sounds in their head," said Darrow.
Darrow's coalition of Excellence In Audiology certified practices across the country treat adults with mild to severe tinnitus and hearing loss. "Given how slowly tinnitus and hearing loss can develop as we age, it makes sense that patients wait longer than they should to seek out treatment. Our goal is to be a resource for patients, a place where they can learn about the medical treatment of tinnitus and hearing loss. Although there are nearly 50 million people living with tinnitus, we treat every patient as an individual," said Darrow.
Steve knows he is in this for the long-haul and that he must remain committed to his treatment plan. He urges others to seek treatment from their local Excellence In Audiology center and to stay committed to their treatment plan. As Steve so passionately states, "I'm 57 years old and I have a lot of life left to live, and I'm not going to live it with ringing in my ears. I want to live my best life, stay sharp as I age, and enjoy every ring-free moment I can with the loves of my life, my wife and daughters."