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New treatment for ringing ears now available

Dr. Christine Albertus, audiologistPersistent ringing in the ears, or tinnitus, affects millions of people in the U.S., and has the potential to dramatically reduce a person's quality of life.

It turns out, the best way is to treat this annoying sound is with more sound, according to Marshfield Clinic and national hearing experts.

A new sound therapy available at Marshfield Clinic uses advanced technology to generate specific sounds – using a device similar to an iPod. Research suggests these sounds produce brain activity that reduces the amount of "ringing" a person hears.

"Basically, this very specific sound therapy produces low-volume, pitch-matched sounds that have been shown to reduce perceived sounds caused by tinnitus. All sounds are presented to patients at a volume softer than the patient's perceived tinnitus, designed to retrain the brain to lower the patient's sound burden," said Dr. Christine Albertus, an audiologist at Marshfield Clinic Minocqua and Park Falls centers who offers this treatment.

Sound therapy currently is the most effective treatment for tinnitus, according to the American Tinnitus Association. This new sound therapy technology, now available through Albertus at Marshfield Clinic, originally was developed at the University of California, Irvine by leading hearing researchers. That's good news because a lot of people suffer from tinnitus.

Tinnitus affects an estimated 32 percent of the U.S. population, according to National Center for Health Statistics studies. The prevalence of tinnitus increases to 70-85 percent in the hearing-impaired population. That indicates that more than 80 percent of the patients who have tinnitus also have some degree of hearing loss.

"Many people who suffer from tinnitus say they aren't seriously bothered by it, however, a significant number of people are bothered enough by their tinnitus to seek medical attention," Albertus said. "For some patients, this condition becomes so overwhelming that it seriously disrupts their lives."

Many possible causes for tinnitus exist, but most cases are related to auditory system damage. In the past, many people who had this condition were told nothing could be done or were never offered treatment. In other instances, fads or unproven "miracle cures," have discouraged people from seeking treatment.

Most tinnitus seems loud, but actually is soft when objectively measured against other sounds. Tinnitus can be brain activity perceived as sound – caused by lack of input from the ear to the brain, often from hearing loss.

"Tinnitus often is perceived as being very loud. This is due to how the subconscious mind classifies the tinnitus and is related to how the tinnitus began, as well as stress, anxiety, depression or fear associated with the tinnitus," Albertus said. "This often is exacerbated by a general lack of knowledge about tinnitus."

Evaluations of individuals are necessary to determine if sound therapy is appropriate. Sound therapy is designed for short-term relief of tinnitus symptoms and to provide long-term relief when used as part of the tinnitus management program.

For more information, call the Marshfield Clinic Audiology Department in Minocqua, 715-358-1285, or in Park Falls, 715-762-7311; or call 800-347-0673.

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The Marshfield Clinic system provides patient care, research and education with more than 50 locations in northern, central and western Wisconsin, making it one of the largest comprehensive medical systems in the United States.

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