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.