How Local Audiologist Treats Tinnitus
Tinnitus and Hearing Health Calgary’s Bonita Chow can help people deal with tinnitus, a phantom sound condition affecting millions of Canadians.
How a local audiologist treats tinnitus, a phantom sound condition affecting millions of Canadians
Bonita Chow is the first audiologist in Canada trained as a Tinnitus Care Provider. It affects more than nine million adult Canadians, yet tinnitus, with its phantom perception of sounds within the ear ranging from ringing to hissing, buzzing, whooshing and roaring, is often misunderstood and left untreated. Bonita Chow, a Registered Clinical Audiologist and founder of Tinnitus and Hearing Health Calgary, is out to change that. “It’s about understanding that you may have tinnitus, but tinnitus does not have you. It’s about taking back control.” Chow is the first audiologist in Canada trained as a specialized Tinnitus Care Provider and one of few in Canada with expertise in multiple treatment disciplines. Tinnitus is not a disease; rather, it is a symptom of underlying issues in the auditory system that, in about 20 per cent of cases, can severely affect a sufferer’s quality of life. There is no single cause — and it affects all ages — though noise exposure, head injuries, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol can put you at risk. In 70 to 90 per cent of cases, there is also hearing loss. “Tinnitus is complex; it is not like you can always pinpoint the one thing that caused it,” Chow says. Her evidence-based approach looks at whole body connectivity because “you are more than just a pair of ears.” When diagnosed with tinnitus, patients are often told they’ll ‘just have to live with it.’ Chow’s response: “While it can’t be cured or reversed, it is a myth that nothing can be done.” It’s why she opened her clinic in 2017 specializing in tinnitus treatment. It has drawn continued positive feedback from patients. Chow has seen growing demand during the pandemic, not only because of the potential effects of the virus on the hearing structures, but also because sufferers have more time to worry about their symptoms. The tinnitus toolbox Chow uses has no cookie-cutter solutions, but instead involves a unique collaboration with patients to overcome the negative effects of tinnitus and restore quality of life. She starts with education and counselling, so patients understand “what is going on under the hood,” how it relates to the auditory system, helping relieve patient anxiety. Lifestyle management is key. “If they can’t fall asleep, relax or concentrate because they’re bothered by tinnitus, we work on improving those things.” Then there’s sound therapy for tinnitus relief, where prescribed sound generators use soothing sounds, such as music, or, if there is also hearing loss, hearing aids that treat both the loss and the tinnitus at the same time. nstead of masking the sound, the tinnitus becomes less annoying and noticeable, so the brain’s retrained to see tinnitus as a background sound, much like a fridge’s humming, which the brain simply becomes accustomed to. The tinnitus audiologist offers an initial consultation over the phone or Zoom. “It’s a brief chat about what is going on — I’m not giving diagnosis or advice — but it’s a chance to learn how tinnitus has been affecting you, explain what I do, and give clarity on how we can help you move forward.”