UC audiologist studying ringing in people's ears

 Dr Kim Wise

Dr Kim Wise has just has recently joined the University’s Department of Communication Disorders as a lecturer and says that clinically, one of the most pressing issues is meeting the need of New Zealanders requiring hearing and tinnitus consultation, management and support. 

Internationally, about 10 to 15 percent of adults face chronic tinnitus—the perception of noise or sounds in the ears or head often described as ringing, buzzing or hissing without an external cause.

“Of those experiencing tinnitus, 20 percent will seek clinical treatment and advice. Nearly 91 percent of those presenting with tinnitus as a primary concern will also demonstrate measurable hearing loss,” Dr Wise says. 

”There is therefore, a link between various types of hearing loss, hearing system injury or pathology, and tinnitus emergence. There are sometimes other factors which may occur with, contribute to, or sustain tinnitus—such as sleep disturbance, attention and concentration issues, depression and anxiety—but treating hearing loss is an important initial step in tinnitus management. 

“Although global statistics suggest roughly 10 percent of the population has hearing loss, the World Health Organisation reports that about a third of people over the age of 65 are affected by hearing loss, significantly affecting their quality of life. The number of individuals over 65 is anticipated to double by the year 2030. 

“The brain has the ability to change, demonstrating plasticity. Medical treatment and some forms of training can help patients regain function after stroke such as improved speech, memory, attention and concentration.

“However, the brain can also manifest maladaptive change due to injury, perceptual changes in the sensory systems, or disease. I have been involved in research developing an attention-based training method to manage tinnitus. 

“The project was aimed to determine if a computer-based auditory perceptual training game would result in the reduction of tinnitus and if any improvements were due to auditory attention. Participants involved in the study experienced significant changes in selective attention and an improved capacity for ignoring their tinnitus. If sounds associated with people’s work, recreation or when socialising is so intense they need to shout they could be damaging their hearing through this level of exposure.”

Dr Wise aims to continue her research in attention-related approaches for tinnitus and is keen on applying these methods to potentially arrest, or improve cognitive ageing. She recommends people with hearing issues should protect their hearing, to preserve it. If unsure, sound level meters and dosimeters could be used to help determine if some noise levels are unsafe. 

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