App to help ease tinnitus symptoms

By Madalyn Velisaris and Samantha Boyle

If you have ever been to a loud concert or suffered from a bad head injury, you may have experienced a constant ringing in your ear for some time afterwards, but this ringing can be a permanent issue for people with tinnitus.

Fatima Husain, assistant professor in speech and hearing sciences, is studying whether relaxation and sound apps can minimize the symptoms of tinnitus in adults ages 21 to 70.

Husain said tinnitus is harder to treat than other hearing-loss issues, because devices such as hearing aids are able to treat and help those with a loss of hearing. A constant ringing in the ear is harder to manage.  

One app being studied to help treat tinnitus consists of sounds such as bubbles, fire, rain or evening forest, which help mask the ringing created by tinnitus, Husain said. 

“It’s part of another sound your brain can focus on and set up your internal sound,” she said. “And it also reduces loudness of your internal sound so it’s not as bothersome.”

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    This app is one of the better ones that are on the market, Husain said. The other app focuses on relaxation, which includes exercises to maintain mindfulness or to help the user meditate.

    Other relaxation methods suggested to help tinnitus include volunteering, meeting friends, being outdoors and running, she said.

    “The whole idea is that you’re not thinking about your sound, and it just becomes part of your everyday life,” Husain said.

    She said the app can also help people with tinnitus when they are going through a stressful time when tinnitus tends to be louder, because listening to the sounds will lower the volume and calm someone down.

    “It gives you some way to recover your balance,” she said.

    Around 50 million Americans have some form of tinnitus, the Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience Lab website said.

    “It’s like a trap, having this continuous sound inside your head and you cannot control it,” Husain said. “For some people, it is quite bothersome. They get distracted by it.”

    Husain said people with tinnitus may have sleeping problems, more anxiety and depression.

    “The ‘trap’ is not able to be in a quiet place for very long,” Husain said.

    She said mostly during the day when people with tinnitus are busy, they don’t pay much attention to it, but once they are at home or alone, the noise starts to get louder. The app is supposed to help with that.

    “It’s mostly allowing you to cope with tinnitus and learn to live with it, even when things are quiet,” Husain said. 

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