PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Some are calling it an epidemic as more and more people seek help for an annoying ringing noise in their ears.

For some, finding relief is difficult; however, there’s a new treatment being done in our area that’s helping people who haven’t been able to find relief any other way.

For most of you, if you sit in a totally quiet room, you’ll notice some kind of ringing in your ears. But for some people, that annoying buzzing or ringing is just unbearable. It can lead to depression and anxiety.

There’s no cure for it, but a new way to manage it is offering hope.

If you’ve never had Tinnitus, you can just imagine how terrible it is.

Tinnitus can be debilitating for people who have it.

The American Tinnitus Association says there are now people as young as 12 complaining of the condition, which never used to happen.

“It’s a buzzing – kind of static,” said one person who suffers from it.

For others it sounds like a high-pitched tone. It can be ringing, buzzing, humming – it’s different for different people.

In most cases, Tinnitus and hearing loss go hand in hand, and the number of people listening to music too loudly and too often with MP3 players or iPods has doctors concerned.

Maybe not now, but decades from now, those young people are going to have enough hearing loss that they’ll be more susceptible to getting Tinnitus.

To tell if you’re listening to music too loudly through your ear buds, experts say you should have a friend stand next to you. If that person can hear the music, it needs to be turned down.

Doctors say people should consider wearing ear plugs when they hunt, go to loud concerts or even sporting events.

Tinnitus, it turns out, is also affecting thousands of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Experts say Tinnitus and hearing loss are the number one and two disabilities for returning veterans.

Noreen Kapp is director of the Tinnitus program at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

“People who have been exposed to trauma like a blast will come back, and they’ll have the Tinnitus then,” she said.

So what can be done to help patients?

Both the VA and Pittsburgh Ear Associates are using a device called Neuromonics and it uses classical or new age music as part of the therapy.

Dr. Todd Hillman says he’s seen impressive results with patients where nothing else worked.

For some patients, hearing aids work by restoring sound so people don’t notice the ringing. Devices that mask the ringing can also be used.

But Dr. Hillman tells says Neuronmics is different than those treatments.

“Neuromonics actually is a higher order of sound that will actually reorder the part of the brain that’s making the Tinnitus,” he said.

Patricia Creek, of Cranberry, says Neuronomics has helped her tremendously.

Patients listen to the device a few hours a day for as long as a year.

Also, it’s not just music, Dr. Hillman says it’s customized to patients and there’s actually a low level background sound buried in there that’s aimed at keeping all parts of your ear busy.

American Tinnitus Association
Pittsburgh Ear Associates
VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System
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