When they imagine living with hearing loss, many people think it must be a life of quiet. Solitude. Silence. But the reality is often quite the opposite. While some people hear little or no noise, other hearing loss patients are plagued with the constant background noise of tinnitus.
How Are Hearing Loss and Tinnitus Related?
Hearing loss that’s brought on by age, long-term inner-ear damage or auditory nerve trauma can often have tinnitus as a co-occurring symptom. When patients experience hearing loss, fewer external sound signals reach the brain. Without regular exposure to those signals, scientists believe the brain changes and adapts, over correcting for the lack of sound. The effects of tinnitus are the product of this overcorrection.
How Can I Treat Hearing-Loss Related Tinnitus?
Patients experiencing both hearing loss and tinnitus may find relief from hearing aids. Hearing aids are small electronic devices worn in or behind the ear. Using a microphone, amplifier and speaker, hearing aids boost the volume of outside noise and increase the amount of sound received and processed by your brain. This is helpful for several reasons:
- Masking: hearing aids can raise the volume of external sound to the point that it covers or masks the noise of tinnitus. This makes it more difficult to hear the tinnitus and helps your brain focus on the noises around you.
- Auditory Stimulation: increasing the volume of sounds around you also increases the amount of sound signals reaching the brain. This could possibly help to counteract the overcorrecting that causes hearing loss-induced tinnitus.
- Improved Communication: loud tinnitus can make it impossible for patients to do everyday activities they once enjoyed—follow a conversation, talk on the phone, watch television, listen to the radio—leading to frustration, isolation and depression. Because hearing aids boost the volume of these activities above the sound of tinnitus, patients may regain their confidence and their desire to be social and participate in life.
How Else Can Hearing Aids Improve Tinnitus Symptoms?
Today’s hearing devices are digital hearing aids. Not only can they magnify sound, but they can also produce it. That means they can create white noise or other artificial sound that masks the sound of tinnitus.
Which Hearing Aids Can Help With My Tinnitus?
Below are some hearing aid options to consider:
- Miracle-Ear: Miracle-Ear hearing aids offer three types of tinnitus controls: static noise, ocean waves and notch therapy. The static noise function offers five different pre-set static sounds designed to mix with and distract you from the sounds of your tinnitus. The ocean waves function creates four different soothing ocean sounds to help you relax. And the notch therapy function can help reduce the perception of tinnitus by helping your brain learn to ignore the tinnitus sounds. All of these functions can be adjusted and set by your hearing care specialist during a hearing test to the setting that works best for you. Miracle-Ear also offers a mobile app to discreetly adjust your tinnitus controls. Miracle-Ear products are generally more affordable than other hearing aid options, and they work best for patients with tonal tinnitus (the most common kind of tinnitus).
- Starkey: Starkey Hearing Technologies offers what they call Multiflex Tinnitus Technology for more personalized options for relief of your tinnitus. Starkey products produce customizable sound stimuli that can distract you, no matter what type of tinnitus symptoms you experience—whether they are mild or severe, intermittent or all day, tonal, crickets or a buzzing saw.
- Resound: ReSound Smart Hearing aids provide you with a variety of features to personalize your tinnitus treatment that includes a series of water-based nature sounds. ReSound hearing aids also let you stream sound directly from your Apple device so you can enjoy the ambient sounds or music of your choice. ReSound also offers two apps for tinnitus sufferers. ReSound Relief is a multisensory app that offers dynamic sounds, tinnitus management guidance and a variety of engaging exercises and activities to help you manage your symptoms. And the ReSound Smart app lets you have on-the-go personalization of your hearing aids without having to touch and draw attention to them.
What Else Do I Need To Know When Considering a Hearing Aid?
There are several things to consider before you decide if a hearing aid is right for you.
- Price: hearing aids can be expensive and are often not covered by insurance. People with tinnitus who have low levels of hearing loss may find it particularly difficult to find insurance coverage for their hearing aids.
- Lifestyle and comfort: research shows that hearing aids are most effective when they are used all day throughout the waking hours. This means, for best results, you’ll have to wear your hearing aids on a full-time basis.
- Sound sensitivity: patients with hyperacusis or other forms of sound sensitivity may find sound amplifying devices like hearing aids cause too much discomfort.
- Age: while hearing aids can benefit most patients with hearing loss-induced tinnitus, some studies show they work best for younger patients and for those with a shorter history of tinnitus.