Studies show that up to 15% of the general population reports suffering from tinnitus, which is defined as the sensation of hearing sound that is inaudible to others. Tinnitus can be pronounced TIN-e-TUS OR tin-AYE-tus. Tinnitus is almost always associated with hearing loss, although the loss can be extremely mild. The most common cause of tinnitus is noise exposure, but it is also linked with age-related hearing loss, ototoxic drugs, head trauma and Meniere’s disease.
Tinnitus is often compared to phantom limb syndrome, which occurs when the brain makes the person feel pain in an extremity that is no longer there. In the case of tinnitus, inner hair cell loss causes this phantom sensation in the brain, which is perceived as sound. It is important to note that the limbic system, which is the area in the brain that controls our emotions, is activated by sound and can greatly contribute to the increase in stress and anxiety related to tinnitus.
Of the 15% of the general population that experience tinnitus, 10% of those seek medical attention. This means that around 90% of those with tinnitus can habituate, or get used to, their tinnitus and “learn to live with it”. For those that are severely disturbed by their tinnitus, it can be frustrating, or even in some cases, debilitating. Common difficulties associated with tinnitus include sleeping problems, annoyance or irritation, difficulty relaxing, despair and frustration, problems focusing on speech, and concentration difficulties. 
Tinnitus treatment starts with a full diagnostic evaluation of the patient’s hearing. A thorough review of the patient’s medical and hearing health history is conducted, and the patient completes a questionnaire designed to diagnose the level of severity of the patient’s tinnitus. It is then determined whether the patient could benefit from our tinnitus consultation.
During a tinnitus consultation, Dr. Rierson provides an in-depth educational presentation that includes some behavioral therapy strategies to deal with the tinnitus. A demonstration of a tinnitus habituation technology, called Widex Zen Therapy, is also provided. This device looks like a hearing aid-in fact, it can be a hearing aid. However, it also has the ability to function as a tinnitus habituation device. To explain what habituation is, it is easiest to use an analogy. When we first start to wear a watch or glasses, we feel these items on our body, but because we associate their presence with something positive (or benign), we learn to accept this new sensory sensation. Eventually the watch or glasses become a part of our life and we might not even think about them at all. Studies have shown that this habituation treatment program results in a substantial positive adjustment to tinnitus within the first two months of treatment, with further changes occurring through six months. Widex Zen Therapy treatment is shown to provide effective habituation to tinnitus much faster than other tinnitus treatments currently available. 2
If the patient wishes to proceed with the Zen Therapy treatment, the devices are ordered and custom fit. Follow up appointments are scheduled at regular intervals within the first two months, during which time instructional counseling and if necessary, behavioral and cognitive counseling are provided. This follow-up care is designed to help the patient modify the negative association they have with their tinnitus. Relaxation and sleep strategies are also provided, as needed. Following the two month treatment period, patients will continue to come in once a month (or less if they are doing well) and by six months they are able to schedule annual appointments for routine maintenance of their tinnitus masking devices.
Dr. Rierson designed this program using strategies from the University of Iowa’s Tinnitus Clinic and from Widex Technologies, the leading manufacturer for tinnitus and hearing loss treatment. We are very pleased to bring this unique service to the Carroll area.
If you or a loved one could benefit from this new service, we encourage you to call our office to schedule a hearing evaluation and tinnitus consultation at 712-775-2625.
 Tyler, Richard. (2017, 1). Current Approaches to Helping the Tinnitus Patient. University of Iowa Tinnitus Talk Forum. Iowa City, IA.
 Widex Zen Therapy Counseling. Widex.