Nearly everyone has experienced a ringing in their ears at one point or another, but for Richfield resident Kevin Kilian the ringing never went away, ruining nearly aspect of his life.

After 16 months of struggling to hear over the discomforting noise, Kilian found hope through a new device created by hearing specialists at Starkey Hearing Technologies in Eden Prairie.
Kilian is not alone in his struggle with the hearing disease known as tinnitus. It affects 50 million people in the United States to some degree. Of these, about 16 million have severe enough tinnitus to seek medical attention and about two million patients are so seriously debilitated that they cannot function on a normal day-to-day basis, according to the American Tinnitus Association.

There are a variety of causes for the affliction, including loud noises, aging, ear infections, head injuries and medication side affects. For the 60 year-old Richfield native, it was a result of the common cold.

On a flight back from Seattle in September 2011, Kilian experienced a common hearing discomfort caused by airplane travel. His right ear slammed shut, but the sensation that normally only lasts moments continued long after the plane landed. The blockage was soon accompanied by a heart-pounding sensation and loud ringing sound.

The following day the ringing got even louder, to a level 10 out 10, according to Kilian. After going to the doctor to get treated for a cold, he found little help for the hearing problem and was referred to a ear, nose and throat specialist. He tried a variety of ear drops and medications, but nothing helped. Even after receiving a minor surgical implant in his ear, the ringing went on unhindered.

“After the surgery the doctor handed me a pamphlet about tinnitus and told me that I had subjective severe tinnitus,” Kilian said. “I had never heard of it, but he said 36 million Americans suffer from it and there’s no cure.”

That last visit to the doctor left Kilian feeling hopeless. His struggle to hear over the ringing affected every aspect of his life, making it hard to enjoy all activities, big or small. He went from watching television at a volume of 15-17 to 45-50, making it difficult to enjoy the simple activity with his wife. Going to movies was an unpleasant experience for Kilian and his wife as well. He would ask her what the actors were saying and while she had to explain, she would miss parts as well.

“I was depressed, irritable, frustrated and had no social life,” Kilian said. “I became a hermit.”

While all areas of his life were affected by the noise, some were more hurtful to Kilian than others. During the 16-month period, he could not understand a word his 3 year-old granddaughter said. Also, as an inside sales representative, his work life was severely affected. And only being able to sleep three to four hours a night didn’t help either.

“It was a horrendous experience,” Killian said.

Finding Hope
Everything changed in January, when Kilian walked into Starkey Hearing Technologies in Eden Prairie. Hearing specialists gave him a hearing test and fitted him for a special hearing aid that masks the symptoms of tinnitus. The new device, developed by Starkey audiologists, is called Xino Tinnitus.

Kilian turned in his old hearing aids and benefited from the amplification, as amplification with hearing aids has been proven to bring additional relief to people experiencing tinnitus, allowing them to boost ambient sounds that naturally mask tinnitus. The device has the ability to bring back 92-95 percent of patients original hearing.

“Tinnitus can severely and negatively affect a person’s quality of life,” said Chris McCormick, Starkey Hearing Technologies’ vice president of marketing. “Sound therapy using a device like Xino Tinnitus makes tinnitus manageable and gives those suffering a chance to experience life with personalized all-day relief.”

Starkey Audiologist Elizabeth Galster was one of several specialists who helped create the revolutionary device. For 30 years, different forms of sound therapy have been used to alleviate the ringing sounds heard only by those suffering from tinnitus. Most commonly, this approach generates sounds which are amplified in a hearing aid to counterbalance the tinnitus heard by the sufferer. Audiologists work individually with patients to find the unique balance of sounds required to offer relief.

Galster not only helped with the conceptualization and development of the device over the last few years, but also led a clinical study to fit 19 patients with the device before releasing it to the public.

“Part of this sound therapy can stimulate auditory relief and make symptoms less problematic,” Galster said. “This device can also be tailored to each patients needs.”

Many patients find the ocean noise produced by the device to be both relaxing and helpful, according to Galster. She has seen a variety of results from patients with different levels of the disease, but says she has enjoyed seeing the project through to the implementation stage.

“It’s really interesting to see how well it works, especially when it has such a huge impact,” Galster said. “It’s been rewarding to work on implementing this product and getting to see it through and be able to fit patients and hear stories of their experiences, like Kevin’s.”

An audiologist adjusted the settings of the device specific to Kilian’s needs. When the volume reached the right setting, it became a moment he would never forget.

“My eyes got as big as fifty-cent pieces,” Kilian said. “This is a miracle!”

It was the first time, his irritation went from a level 10 to a level 2. Over time the device even helped him sleep better at night, when he took the hearing aids out.

Nowadays he often forgets he even has the condition, especially at work. Kilian says he doesn’t even feel the irritation of tinnitus in his ear and hardly even notices the ocean wave sound in his ear produced by the device and even when he does finds it very soothing. About 90 percent of time he doesn’t even notice any affects of tinnitus.

In addition to work, all aspects of Kilian’s life that had been so horribly disrupted by the persistent noise improved greatly. He went from watching TV at volume level 50, down to 20. More importantly, he was able to better communicate with his granddaughter.

“Before when she would say something, I would just nod, but I could not understand her,”Kilian said. “I went to go pick her up and I could hear every word she said. It brought a tear to my eye.”

Kilian plans to celebrate Jan. 8 each year like a wedding anniversary – a day he will never forget.

“It was a miracle,” Kilian said. “They gave me my life back.”

If you suspect yourself or someone you love may be experiencing tinnitus or hearing loss, don’t wait, take the first step and call Desert Hearing Care today at (480) 374-1846, to schedule your FREE, no charge or obligation, patient-centered hearing evaluation to find out what is best for you. You can also schedule your free consultation online.