Tinnitus Experiment and Question

I know that the following is long, but please bear with me. This may be of interest to some.

I recently developed tinnitus in my left ear that varies from a very high pitched tone to a sound similar to an electronic whine, and it is driving me crazy. The onset was sudden with no apparent cause. I’ve been through every test available (four audiology tests, including one on my own,) medication (Gabapentin, steroidal nasal sprays, etc.) and various forms of masking (white noise, pink noise, etc.) Nothing helped.

I’ve investigated and tried various relaxation techniques (soothing background music, nature sounds, etc.) and they haven’t worked for me either.

I came across neural re-training techniques, and they seem to hold some promise. Two of the most popular are Neuromonics and AudioNotch. They both work on the same assumptions. Your brain has something engineers call an Automatic Gain Control, or AGC. When you’re exposed to loud sounds, it turns down the brain’s sensitivity, and when sounds are softer, it increases sensitivity. This AGC is also a function of frequency. During your early lifetime your brain “learns” how to set the sensitivity based upon the performance of your ears. When you get older and your high frequency hearing diminishes, or your hearing is impaired, your brain still thinks that your ears are as sensitive as they were before, and it may interpret a loss of signal from the ears as quiet sounds. In response to that, it turns up the gain, thus creating perceived noise in frequencies that are not really there.

These neural re-training techniques boost the frequencies that your audiologist has determined that you’ve lost, thereby effectively re-normalizing the frequency response coming from the ears and tricking the brain into thinking that your aural performance is the same as it used to be, allowing it to turn down its own gain and removing the perceived noise. This is essentially masking. Theory says that if you can keep this trickery up long enough, you may be able to wean your brain from boosting the frequencies that cause tinnitus.

The problem? Neuromonics is basically a limited MP3 player with an equalizer to boost certain frequencies. It plays only four pieces of music continuously so that eventually they become background noise. It resembles an old iPod or Zune that clips to your belt and has a corded earphone. You are supposed to listen to it four to six hours a day for at least six months to see any effect. And it costs $5500 and is not covered by insurance.

Being an engineer and a physicist, I approached this from a scientific point of view. First I purchased a cordless headset, hooked it up to my computer, downloaded an equalizer, and set it to boost high frequencies as best I could to approximate the inverse of my hearing loss. Listening to music and watching movies with this setting did seem to mask the tinnitus and, more importantly, did provide a limited amount of relief when I wasn’t wearing the headset, at least when I’d been using it all day.

Then I tried a similar experiment. I downloaded a music player with an equalizer to my smart phone and used the same settings as on the computer. Same result.

But here are the problems. First, I can’t set the equalizer to match the inverse of my hearing loss. The equalizer only boosts frequencies up to a maximum of 12 db, and the frequency curve is very limited. The frequency of my tinnitus is up around 10 KHz, which is higher than the equalizer will go. Second, and most important, I can’t walk around with a headset connected to my computer or phone all day. And, of course, while I’m wearing it, I can’t hear outside sounds very well. To be most effective, this re-training technique requires not only boosting the correct frequencies, but almost constant correction all the time of all environmental sounds.

Which brings me to my question. I believe that either a hearing aid or a personal sound amplification product (PSAP) that can be properly and individually programmed for the inverse of my hearing curve and could be worn all of the time could dramatically improve my tinnitus over time. However, I have been unable to find such a device that has a frequency response high enough for my tinnitus and does not boost lower (less than 3 KHz) frequencies. Ideally, it would boost frequencies as high as 12 KHz. Most of the devices that I’ve found drop off dramatically at 4 KHz and boost lower frequencies.

Does anyone know of a device or company that might be able to provide this? I’ve checked with both my audiologist and Costco, and they don’t know of any.

All current Siemens 7bx hearing aids (and most 7mi models) can generate a tinnitus signal up to 12000 Hz. There’s a gain adjustment handle at 10625 Hz.

Thanks for the information. I checked into the Siemens 7bx on line, but it’s hard to determine, specifically, what it does. The brochure says that it generates “personalized relaxing sounds” to relieve tinnitus suffering, but I’m not looking for “relaxing” sounds. I simply want to amplify the high frequencies without amplifying the low frequencies as seen here.

Do you know where I can find more detailed technical information on its characteristics and performance?

I don’t think there’s any detailed technical information posted online. The hearing aids have four tinnitus signals to choose from: White Noise, Pink Noise, Speech Noise, and High-Tone Noise. The frequency shape of the signal can be precisely adjusted using 20 gain handles. Your audiologist should be able to order you a pair if you want to give them a try. But keep in mind these are premium hearing aids and they’re going to be just as expensive as the Neuromonics.

If my hypothesis is correct, it’s worth the cost. Neuromonics isn’t really an option. I can’t afford to stay tethered for six hours a day not being able to hear outside sounds, and it shouldn’t be as effective as my hearing aid solution. I only need one, and, as silly as it sounds, it does double as a blue tooth earpiece for my phone. I’ve contacted Siemens in an attempt to get more detailed information. Let’s hope that that pays off.

Thanks again.

What has worked for me for the last 40 or so years is what my uncle told me to do. He was almost deaf and had a very high powered body aid set up from the first time I have been able to remember him. He said the only thing that will save you from the ringing in your ears is to train yourself to forget about the ringing and concentrate on other things. For me that concentration has always been my work. And when I am not working I keep something around that makes sounds that help me forget that I have ringing in my ears. I use a sound machine that has white noise for the bedroom and I always have some kind of music going other wise. And over the years it has been a lot harder to overlook the ringing as my hearing has gotten worse. Buy so far it has worked for me. even if I go out on trips or vacations or even visiting family over night I care my sound machine with me. My aids help somewhat, even seeing they do not make any noise all the time. I personally do not wish to have my aids adding sounds when I am not hearing anything else. If needed I have the Resound Relief app on my Iphone that I can use and it works great. I only use it if I really have to.
All it takes for me is to concentrate on something else, even reading a book helps for me or searching the internet for something that I am interested in.

Thanks for the feedback. I do find that distractions help. Unfortunately, I can’t stay distracted all of the time, and when the tinnitus spontaneously increases in volume, it can attract my attention even when I’m busy with something else. I’ve tried various white and pink noise generators, and they don’t seem to help me at all. I’m just hoping that my theory, based upon the clinical proven evidence from the Neuromonics test in Australia, will help me to re-train my brain not to produce these sounds. And of course, if I’m correct, I hope to be able to share this with the rest of the tinnitus community.

Very sorry about your tinnitus. I have had this condition for at least 10 years and I’ve learned to live with it. Mine probably came from 10 years as a Navy radioman, 50 years riding motorcycles and 30 years of refinery work. It does get in the way of conversation at times, depending on the frequency of the person talking. I have not tried any ‘cures’ and I don’t notice it that much most of the time, even though it’s always present. Of course I’m noticing it now because I’m focused on it. I had bad sciatic pain years ago (thankfully it went away), but it would come and go. After a while I sort of learned to live with the suffering, but when the pain would go away I would notice it gone. Of course Tinnitus (at least mine) is 7-24. I hope you find a fix and thanks for sharing.