Anyone who has experienced ringing (buzzing, clicking, etc.) in the ears, for any period of time, knows how irritating this problem can be. This ringing, known as tinnitus, can cause significant problems including concentration difficulties, irritability, sleep disturbances, difficulty following conversations, anxiety, depression, interference with personal relationships and fatigue. Frequently, the Department simply ignores these functional problems.
Tinnitus is a separate medical condition from hearing loss. Tinnitus is the presence of constant “noise” in the ears where hearing loss is the absence of “noise.” Clearly, these two conditions have different functional effects on the ear. Tinnitus robs a person of silence, something that chronic tinnitus sufferers may never hear again.
If the tinnitus is due, in part, to an industrial injury or occupational disease, (e.g. occupational noise) then the injured worker should receive a permanent partial disability (PPD) settlement. The settlement should be based on a percentage of total body impairment. Often, the Department simply increases the amount of compensable hearing loss. The difference between these two methods could be substantial, depending on the situation. Additionally, if there is tinnitus, but no compensable hearing loss, the Department will try to argue that no PPD is due. Any PPD award for hearing loss and tinnitus should be reviewed closely.
There may be some new hope for someone with tinnitus. A recent study found that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help improve the daily functioning of tinnitus patients. In short, according to Science Daily, the treatment focuses on “reducing negative thoughts and feelings surrounding the tinnitus symptoms, through exposure techniques, movement and relaxation exercises, and mindfulness – based elements.” This treatment is usually performed in conjunction with “Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which examines the problems on a sound perception level. A CNN article noted that “people usually avoid their own sound [whether it is ringing, buzzing, etc.] so they practice paying attention to their sound and what reactions they’re having because of that sound.” Apparently, among the group who underwent the therapy, 70% reported improvements in their quality of life, or decreased tinnitus, a year after beginning treatment.
Dane D. Ostrander, Attorney at Law
Williams, Wyckoff & Ostrander, PLLC