One refrain I continue to hear from folks in our industry: “Tinnitus patients are crazy.” The word “crazy” is often thrown around loosely and inappropriately when describing a patient who suffers from tinnitus. Imagine for a moment if you had to listen to a shrill, tea kettle-like whistling in your ears EVERY single day. Don't you think you would find that experience unsettling or bothersome?
The truth is patients who suffer from tinnitus are just like you and me. However, they are bothered by an obtrusive and obnoxious noise in their ears and/or head that cannot be silenced. The lack of peace and quiet can severely impact a person’s ability to function in some or all aspects of their life. This impact tinnitus has varies greatly from patient to patient, but there are a number of things the hearing health care professional can anticipate when working with this patient population. Here are six specific tips to help you better care for patients experiencing tinnitus:
- Ease patient fears. Tinnitus is usually not a sign of a serious medical condition. While it is recommended that the patient discuss their tinnitus with their primary care physician, there is typically no major medical reason for tinnitus. However, if other red flags are present (ex. facial paralysis, hearing loss, sudden on-set) a medical referral* is necessary.
- Just listen. Patients want to talk about their experience; they want to tell their story. Often, the hearing health care professional is the first person the patient has encountered that is willing to take the time to listen and even ask about their tinnitus experience. So, let the patient talk before you rush to diagnose and prescribe a treatment plan. Listening is an important part the evaluation and is often therapeutic for your patient.
- Show the patient you care. Your patient wants to know you care. It is not uncommon for patients to report that their primary health care providers have told them “there is nothing we can do about tinnitus, just deal with it.” Not only does this make the patient feel like the health care professional does not care, but it can also make them feel hopeless. Providing information and treatment options that are known to provide relief for most sufferers, not only reassures the patient, but also positions the hearing health care professional as the person who can—and wants to--help.
- Personalize treatment plans. The impacts of tinnitus vary from patient to patient. Tinnitus is personal, and as a result no patient is the same. It is vital that professionals personalize treatment to every patient to ensure they achieve the greatest relief from tinnitus.
- Be prepared for patients who have done their homework. It is very likely that most patients have done some research by the time they come to your clinic. There is a whole lot of information on the Internet, so don’t be surprised if patients come equipped with questions about the newest drug or treatment claiming to “cure tinnitus” or with questions about the effectiveness of sound therapy.
- Schedule more time for tinnitus patients. To accommodate all aspects of the evaluation process, and because some tinnitus patients require more counseling, consider scheduling more time for the initial patient evaluation than you would for patients with hearing loss.
Remember, all patients with tinnitus differ, but they all want the same thing…RELIEF. It is essential that as the hearing health care professional, you are prepared to work with your patients with tinnitus to ensure they receive the quality of care that they deserve.
*Please see the Multiflex Tinnitus Technology Handbook under Professional Literature on the www.starkeypro.com website for Referral Recommendations