by Dr. Sara Burdak, Chief Audiology Officer, Starkey
Audiologists find their way into the profession for a multitude of reasons, but overwhelmingly it is because of the desire to help people. One thing that unites us is the mutual goal of improving the lives of people with hearing and balance disorders, including tinnitus, a common and potentially debilitating condition. More than 50 million Americans live with tinnitus, and it is recognized as the top service-related injury facing our veterans.
The efforts toward the effective treatment and management of tinnitus are vast and more important than ever since preliminary research may suggest a link between COVID-19 and tinnitus along with other associations to overall hearing health.
A significant challenge with tinnitus management is that the condition impacts everyone differently. Tinnitus can be characterized in many ways such as a ringing, buzzing, hissing, roaring or a clicking noise in the ears. One patient I worked with compared his tinnitus to the roaring sound of a semi-truck engine. His day-to-day experience and quality of life would be different than a patient whose tinnitus has a soft tonal quality. Similar to the varying impacts of hearing loss, how do we go about improving patient care for a condition with such a wide spectrum of symptoms? We in the hearing industry are zeroing in on collaboration, education and technology to provide the best possible care.
Collaboration Recently, our team at Starkey put together a two-day virtual symposium on tinnitus treatment and management. Approximately 1,000 hearing professionals with a desire to continue their education on this important topic carved out time to attend. As I watched the expertise on display throughout the symposium, I was inspired by the numerous perspectives and experiences each speaker brought to the conversation. Whether it was research knowledge, resources, technology advancements or first-hand experience in ways to help patients cope with this condition, each presentation provided valuable takeaways for the participants to help improve patient care. At Starkey, we’re committed to ongoing collaboration like this to take tinnitus care to the next level.
Dr. Tricia Scaglione shared the changes she has made at her clinic to improve patient care using an evidence-based practice approach. During a regular internal evaluation a few years ago, her clinic identified some of their biggest difficulties for patients. Further analysis uncovered all of the challenges were tied to a need for more patient education. She made education a focus, which included creating materials that are easier for patients to understand.
Sharing knowledge like this helps us learn from each other. It is a great example of innovation happening at the clinic level and something that can be replicated elsewhere to improve outcomes for those with tinnitus.
“There’s a saying in tinnitus, once you’ve seen one tinnitus patient, you’ve seen one tinnitus patient. They are all different.”
At Starkey, we are focused on developing technology that helps people with varying degrees of tinnitus live better lives. Multiflex Tinnitus Pro is a Starkey Livio Edge AI hearing aid feature that generates a custom sound stimulus for each individual. Tinnitus is incredibly tough to treat because it can change throughout the day, and not everyone responds to the same stimuli in the same way. Multiflex Tinnitus Pro is able to account for the individual differences that exist between each patient so care can be personalized. Additionally, Starkey’s Relax app lets users choose between several soothing sounds, such as the ocean, rain or a crackling fire, to help combat the ringing. The volume can be changed depending on the level of the tinnitus at that time. This functionality is important because the amount of tinnitus a person experiences can change throughout the day. Combining education and technology ensures hearing professionals have the knowledge and tools to provide the best patient care, beginning with making sure hearing professionals understand the technology we provide.
For those living with tinnitus, know that you can turn to a hearing professional with questions or concerns. If you’re looking to gather some information on your own, the American Tinnitus Association is a great place to start. They offer consultations, referrals to audiologists and support groups, peer-to-peer telephone support and email support. They also publish Tinnitus Today magazine.
Working together, we can continue making strides to ease the day-to-day challenges for people living with tinnitus. It is a team effort on many fronts. In the hearing industry, we are committed to continuous collaboration to share ideas and solutions that lead to better patient outcomes. At the clinic level, the best individual solutions will be uncovered by continually
strengthening the ongoing partnership between the hearing professional and the patient. These ongoing efforts will help us all as we shape this evolving type of care.
About the author
Dr. Sara Burdak joined Starkey as an audiologist on the Hearing Research and Technology team in 1999. Over the last 16 years, Sara Burdak has worked to bring impactful programs to our global customer base. She is responsible for developing and aligning Starkey’s global audiology strategy as it relates to education and training programs, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and customer and industry relations. Sara Burdak earned her bachelor’s degree in audiology and speech sciences from Michigan State University, her master’s degree in audiology from Wayne State University, and her Au.D. from the Arizona School of Health Sciences.