Is tinnitus considered a hearing disorder? Where does an audiologist begin when assessing a patient with tinnitus symptoms?
Clement Sanchez: Great question. No, tinnitus is not a hearing disorder. Although patients typically relate it to hearing discomfort, it is actually a psychological symptom. For example, if we do an MRI of that patient’s brain the tinnitus actually activates a part of the brain that is linked to one’s emotion. Understandably, it is confusing for some patients because it is an acoustic phenomenon. Patients don’t often talk about pain when describing their tinnitus, they will usually talk about a “ringing sound”. That “sound” is actually a signal from the brain.
Wendy Switalski, AuD: An audiologist is typically one of the first healthcare providers the patient sees. So although the audiologist may not specialize in tinnitus evaluation or treatment, as the initial medical contact it is important that adequate evaluation of symptoms occurs. I suggest starting with a dialogue because a better understanding of the patient’s tinnitus is the foundation to discuss the effect it has on their daily life. Open conversations facilitate patient trust and a closer relationship.
Clement: A tinnitus assessment can help improve the communication process for both the clinician and the patient. Actually visualizing it on an audiogram makes the tinnitus real rather than something imagined. A tinnitus assessment can also help you determine the most effective tinnitus management plan. With constructive dialogue and an effective tinnitus assessment, patient will leave your clinic with a greater understanding about what tinnitus is, and a concrete plan for dealing with it on a daily basis.
Wendy: By providing a structured framework, the MADSEN Astera2 tinnitus module efficiently guides the assessment through the important milestones needed. It also allows the clinician to find a balance between the necessary support (counseling and listening), but still assist the patient in setting reasonable goals towards habituation.
Audiologists and hearing care professionals who are interested in adding tinnitus care to their practice can view a series of courses, white papers, and reference materials are available at www.audiologysystems.com/tinnitus. Specifically, the Tinnitus Toolbox is a guide to help you recognize which tool to utilize on a patient-by-patient basis, from assessment to counseling and fitting. You can also view our AudiologyOnline recorded webinar facilitated by my colleague, Brianna Young, AuD.