Audiologist Shares Her Own Tinnitus Story | “Hearing Aids ABSOLUTELY Help!”

Dr. Jen Anfinson, who is based in Minnesota has come on strong on our team and provided excellent care to our patients via telehealth. She is a new addition to our team of audiologists at Treble Health.

We are thrilled to announce the newest audiologist on the Treble Health team, this is Dr. Jen Anfinson, who is based in Minnesota. Dr. Jen has come on strong on our team and provided excellent care to our patients via telehealth. Today, we’re going to talk about her personal experience with hearing loss, tinnitus, why she’s working with patients, and some tips and tricks she has for what helps patients reduce tinnitus over time.

Ben Thompson, AuD.

Let me introduce Dr. Jen. She received her doctor of audiology degree in 2009 from the top ranked audiology program, University of Iowa. It was during her residency at the Nashville Veterans Medical Center in Tennessee where she first became intrigued by tinnitus while serving young military veterans who had a normal hearing test but reported bothersome tinnitus. Dr. Jen later worked in ENT settings and eventually in a private practice audiology setting. She also completed the Tinnitus Retraining Therapy’s, TRT, certification with neuroscientist and renowned researcher, Dr. Pawel Jastreboff, and after many years in private practice between Iowa and Minnesota, Dr. Jen joined our team at Treble Health in 2021. Excellent intro, Dr. Jen. I’m excited to have this chat. And tell us a bit about how you got into this field to begin with.

Dr. Ben Thompson introduces Dr. Jen Anfinson who is a new addition to the Treble Health audiologists who have hearing loss herself

Jen Anfinson, AuD.

Yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks for having me. It’s always fun to do this and to share. So I got into audiology because I have hearing loss myself. I think many of my patients have always been surprised to learn that I have hearing loss. Actually myself and one of my older brothers have hearing loss. We have something that’s called cholesteatoma. It does require some surgery involved, some reconstruction.

And so throughout that process of having hearing loss, it eventually led me to become an audiologist. Maybe not right at first. I’ve always loved to teach, and I was going to go the early childhood special education route. And then that led me to speech therapy. And, so then when I was in my speech and hearing science courses and started taking the audiology classes, it just clicked for me, ’cause I was like, “Well, I’ve been there, done that, experienced that,” but it just seemed like a really natural progression and next step for me to help other people with hearing loss as my career move.

Ben Thompson, AuD.

And tell us about these experiences with the military veterans who did not have hearing loss but had bothersome tinnitus. For most people, that confuses them. We think, “Oh, well, (it) is coming from the ears. There must be something wrong with the ears.” But when the tests come back as null, overall things are looking healthy in the ears, then it has doctors and people scratching their heads. So what did you learn there with your time at the veteran’s hospital in Tennessee?

Jen Anfinson, AuD.

Yeah, definitely that was, being a resident, still being a student, and not having really much for training in terms of tinnitus at that point, it was a huge mystery for me as well, where I started scratching my head. And it just was fascinating to see, especially the young veterans with normal hearing and bothersome tinnitus. So leaning on my supervisors and whatnot that is where I began to learn about the use of sound therapy, using ear-level devices. I don’t know at that time, I was necessarily using the term habituation. This was certainly, it was 2008, but that’s essentially what we were doing, is to use sound therapy to help with that habituation process so that we could get that tinnitus to move itself into the background.

Ben Thompson, AuD.

You mentioned that you have some hearing loss yourself. Could you explain a bit about how that’s affected your life and do you have tinnitus?

Jen Anfinson, AuD.

Yeah, thanks for asking. So I do have hearing loss myself. My hearing loss is a little wonkier than most. Many patients based on the anatomy of the ear, aging, and noise exposure will have high frequency hearing losses where they struggle with women’s voices and children’s voices, that difficulty in background noise.

I actually have a low frequency hearing loss. So I struggle with men’s voices and because I’m an asymmetrical loss. I have difficulty, lack of localization. So someone can say, “Hey, Jen,” and I’ll hear them, but I’ll have no idea where they’re coming from. And, so I have definitely lived my life. I understand when my patients say, “Gosh, it’s really embarrassing.” Sometimes somebody says something and I miss the joke and everyone’s laughing, and I’m standing there unsure of what was said because of my hearing loss. So I definitely resonate with that, having experienced that on the hearing loss side of things. Now I do wear a hearing aid.

Hearing aids absolutely help. I’ve loved hearing aid technology. I’ve led with hearing aid technology. That’s been my primary focus, was treating patients with hearing loss using amplification. So I’ve always loved talking about hearing aids and seeing people will light up, seeing their lives change just by improving their communication, getting them back to just doing the things that they love to do with their hearing.

On the tinnitus side of things, yes, I do also have tinnitus. I will say it started out in my left ear. That’s my surgical side. That’s my side with hearing loss. I have had it since, I don’t know, I was probably five. I’ve had chronic ear infections throughout my life. So having always had hearing loss, having that reconstructive surgery to my left ear when I was 14. But I’ve always had tinnitus. And, so for me, it’s always been there. So it’s been part of my normal. Whereas now it is, I do experience it in more the middle of my head.

But I am someone where I have habituated. So the tinnitus doesn’t necessarily bother me. I will actually fully admit, since taking this position with Treble Health, now that I focus on tinnitus and working with my tinnitus patients, we’re talking about it more, I will fully admit that I actually do notice my own tinnitus a little bit more, since it is more of my focus. So I usually chuckle and say, “Well, I’ve got to use the same techniques that I’m sharing with my patients.” Those same conversations I have them with myself from time to time just to help in those moments where the tinnitus seems like it’s a little bit more noticeable. But again, in my case, it’s not so bothersome.

Ben Thompson, AuD.

Well, we know that perception is a big part of tinnitus, and whether it’s bothering us or not, and working in a position where you’re providing a lot of support and one-on-one meetings, appointments, counseling with patients. Sorry that your tinnitus is more noticeable. But I think it’s for a good cause. And I think at the end of this, I think it’s going to help more people than hurt more people. So with that, I wanted to just ask, for those of you listening, who don’t know much about Treble Health or have never worked with us, Dr. Jen, what is it that you do in the average day in the life as a telehealth audiologist with Treble health, what kinds of problems are you helping patients improve, what does it look like to be Dr. Jen on the telehealth scene.

Jen Anfinson, AuD.

A day in the life of Dr. Jen. Well, it’s definitely, it’s fun and it’s challenging. Every day, every patient brings something new. And I think it’s always important for my patients to realize that as audiologists, especially in the hearing side of things, there’s a lot of objective measures when we’re fitting hearing aids, the hearing prescription, that sort of thing.

Tinnitus is very subjective. There is a human component. You are a unique human. And, so that’s why it’s so important to work one-on-one with your audiologist, with a tinnitus specialist, because we need to talk about you and your scenario and your lifestyle, and how is this impacting you because your treatment plan might look a little different than the next person and the next person. And, so that’s just a big part of the fun for me.

I love talking to patients. I’m a people person, if you haven’t figured that out. I love counseling and doing the one-on-one. So a lot of the patients that are coming in are certainly sharing their tinnitus stories. We find out where they’re at on their tinnitus journey, and again, where it’s most problematic. Are we focusing on sleep, stress and anxiety reduction, sound therapy? There’s a lot of different tools, as we often talk about, there’s a great, big, old toolbox. And we have to figure out for each individual the tools that work for them, that benefit them, that help them find relief as we move towards habituation. So every patient is something new.

I genuinely love my consultations with my patients. It’s actually really fun to see people improve. And sometimes, it’s impressive how quickly. And everyone’s journey is different. Of course, I want to put that out there. But it’s really thrilling just to see how much we can help. I used to work in ear, nose, and throat, and I’m not going to say this of all ENTs, but it’s always hard when people share their experience that they’ve gone to their medical doctor and they’re told that there’s nothing that can be done for your tinnitus. Here’s your brochure, go deal with it. And when the truth is that relief is possible, we can help. There are absolutely things that we can do to help. So it’s just important to share that.

That’s one of the main reasons I joined Treble health was because I love my consultations. I love getting to know my patients. But really, communicating and educating and letting them know that help is possible and that there is hope and there are absolutely things that we can do to help. And we see it every day. I mean, as professionals, both of us on our team, everybody’s been working well for over a decade or greater. And we really do see the positive changes that are out there. And I think it’s just great to be that light for people to let them know that help and support is available. We’ve got a great team to help people on their tinnitus journey.  

Ben Thompson, AuD.

It’s one of those things that, as audiologists, as medical professionals, as healthcare professionals, unless someone is putting a flag in the ground and saying, “I specialized in tinnitus, I’ve done a lot of trainings,” they’re not going to have the kind of experience to be confident about improving tinnitus. At least that’s personally what happened to me.

Where at the beginning, I was skeptical that tinnitus could get that much better, but the more I do this, the more success stories I see, that even challenge my current belief system, that, wow, neuroplasticity, brain habituation can really improve tinnitus. And like you said, it doesn’t mean it happens quickly for everyone. And it doesn’t mean it happens for every single person. Yet, still, there’s a majority of cases out there that do get better and everyone should try their absolute best. So I appreciate your positive message and that’s definitely one of the reasons that keeps us excited about what we do.

Jen Anfinson, AuD.

Absolutely.

Ben Thompson, AuD.

Great. And any other tips, techniques, or viewpoints that you want to share, maybe things that come up regularly, whether that’s fears or stressors that your patients typically have, any last words you have for the community here on this podcast?

Jen Anfinson, AuD.

Absolutely. I think I’m a few things as an audiologist. I believe very heavily in realistic expectations, but I’m also pretty lighthearted when I do it. And, so one of the first things I will share with a lot of my tinnitus patients is not to go down the rabbit hole. So avoid that rabbit hole. Which does, it makes perfect sense when right at first, especially if tinnitus comes on, it feels like it’s coming out of the blue, that anxiety can set in, and that if that fight or flight kicks in, and then we’re searching, searching for answers and really kind of obsessing in a way. Just really encouraging people to stay off. There’s some forums out there, there can be a lot of negative, scary things that are out there, but just encouraging people to follow things like Dr. Ben and your YouTube channel, things that are more educational and just to have realistic expectations. We follow evidence-based practices.

And, so just to trust the process and creating that one-on-one consultation that you have with your provider is so very important. So trust the process, and of course, we will start off focusing on even like sound therapy or things to calm the nervous system to reduce that stress and anxiety. So we’re certainly here to help, but just make sure we’re following the right resources that are giving the right messages that are realistic. That again, tinnitus relief is possible and we are here and we’re happy to help.

Ben Thompson, AuD.

Excellent, Jen, you’re awesome. Thank you for being here and sharing your message. And for anyone listening who wants to speak with Dr. Jen, we do have free consultations at Treble Health. You can find us online by searching for us or clicking the description of this video. Thank you again, Dr. Jen, and hope to have you on for another podcast sometime soon.

Jen Anfinson, AuD.

Hey, let’s do it. Let’s have some fun. All right. Bye bye.

Ben Thompson, AuD.

All right. Thanks.

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