University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine
Winter 2010

Blocking the Buzz

New device provides better "masking" for tinnitus sufferers

TinnitusImagine for a moment that the loud, incessant buzz of bees inhabits your head. Now, imagine being told by doctors to “get used to it” since there is little, if anything, that can be done to make it stop.

That has been the unfortunate fate of many of the 360,000 Canadians that endure tinnitus – a condition where sufferers hear sounds in one or both ears when there is no external source.

While there is still no cure, researchers and physicians have offered tinnitus sufferers hope and relief through medications and masking devices, as well as cognitive, relaxation and sound therapies.

Now, work by Dr. Jerry J. Halik, a professor in the department of otolaryngology, offers tinnitus sufferers an improved alternative. Dr. Halik, along with Lorraine Vosu, a Toronto audiologist, and Mike Petroff, a California-based inventor and tinnitus sufferer, have developed a promising new masking therapy called Dynamic Tinnitus Mitigation.

Tinnitus is linked to hearing loss, and can be triggered by exposure to loud noise, head trauma or certain medications. For many sufferers, the condition is a tolerable nuisance. For others, the constant, high-pitched hissing or buzzing, or pulsating sound of crickets, provokes debilitating depression and anxiety.

A universal treatment for tinnitus remains elusive because doctors’ understanding of what causes the condition is still evolving. Previously, researchers believed tinnitus stemmed solely from ear problems. Today, new medical scanning devices have revealed that tinnitus is likely often generated in the brain.

Dr. Halik’s masking therapy uses a device resembling an MP3 player. The mechanism delivers computer-generated sounds via headphones or two miniature speakers. Over time, it helps patients habituate to their particular tinnitus sounds.

Traditional tinnitus masking devices produce steady wind-like sounds that are often easily distinguishable from typical tinnitus, making it difficult to effectively mask the offending noise. What makes Dr. Halik’s device innovative is that it produces pleasant sounds at a low volume and over a broad spectrum of frequencies that can mask and temporarily suppress almost all types of tinnitus. 

A 2004 study of Dr. Halik’s therapy found that test subjects who were asked whether the new device reduced their annoyance to tinnitus when compared with 11 conventional masking sounds said they found Dr. Halik’s device twice as effective, on average.

Dynamic Tinnitus Mitigation will be available from North American hearing care providers or directly from Audio Bionics by early 2010.

Recent Posts