When people imagine living with hearing loss, they 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 – the overwhelming sounds of ringing, hissing, roaring, or screeching.
Perhaps you can relate? If so, you find yourself among some 17 million Americans who suffer the terrible paradox of tinnitus exacerbated by hearing loss. Despite this staggering figure for you – the sufferer – it can feel as though you’re the only person in the world enduring the symptoms of tinnitus.
You likely seek out something, anything, that could alleviate your symptoms. You most certainly are frustrated as the as-yet lack of a cure (even more so at the fact that there’s often no definitive cause of tinnitus in the first place).
Hearing aids can and do offer hope. They are proven, tried and tested aids for easing the pain of tinnitus, and reducing the many frustrations you feel in your everyday life
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.
Common Types and Styles of Hearing Aids
Behind-the-ear (BTE) styles
Mini BTE hearing aids with slim tubes and tips
Mini BTEs are positioned behind the outer ear, with a very thin tube that loops over the top and into the inner ear. Because of its design, this type of hearing aid avoids blocking out sounds that the user can still hear naturally, and feels more open as air can still enter the ear. This type of aid may be suitable for those suffering from tinnitus, as hearing loss for such patients tends to be mild to moderate.
Receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) / Receiver-in-canal (RIC)
RITE hearing aids, which are sometimes known as RIC, are miniature BTEs that feature a speaker within the ear wire. RICs are suited to those suffering from mild to severe hearing loss.
BTE hearing aids with earmolds
This type of hearing aid is perhaps considered a ‘traditional’ hearing aid, with a design that’s more noticeable as compared to other designs. That said, owing to their size, they can provide more power than ITE models. As such, they can cope with addressing any degree of hearing loss.
In-the-ear (ITE) styles
Low profile hearing aids
Low profile hearing aids, also known as ‘nearly invisible hearing aids’, describe hearing aids that are small and discreet. Numerous hearing aid model types fall into this category, including all in-the-ear modals (e.g. IIC, CIC and ITC).
IIC hearing aids sit neatly within the second bend of the ear canal, and are custom made to suit the size and shape of your ear. Given its tiny size and position of sitting deeper within the ear canal, this type of hearing aid is completely invisible to the eye.
Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids are small and discreet, and are only just about visible to the naked eye. However, given their size you should expect to sacrifice some of the technology that features in the larger aids (such as dual microphones and telecoils).
In-the-canal hearing aids are slightly bigger than CIC aids, however what they sacrifice in discretion is more than made up for in terms of improved performance and features that can include dual microphones, Bluetooth™ compatibility, and Telecoil loops.
Difference Between Sound Amplifier and Hearing Aids for Tinnitus Relief
Let’s start by making one thing clear: sound amplifiers are not hearing aids, and some hearing aids are sometimes incorrectly labelled as sound amplifiers. The defining difference is this – sound/hearing amplifiers are not FDA-approved as medical devices. Beyond this important fact, there’s also a difference in the way that each group of devices work; sound amplifiers amplify ALL sounds indiscriminately, making them most helpful to those with normal hearing which can suffer in specific situations. This compares to hearing aids, which are more advanced and which selectively ‘choose’ which sounds to amplify. Hearing aids can also be designed to process and amplify speech in particular ways, which may make communication easier. Hearing aids are also custom fitted, whereas sound amplifiers are of a standard size – which can impact their performance and their fit.
Finally, for the sufferer of tinnitus, it’s possible that sound amplifiers may exacerbate their symptoms.
What Are White Noise Hearing Aids?
White noise hearing aids describe models that have a feature that emits white noise into the ears. While there is a vast amount of scientific research that demonstrates how effective white noise is in alleviating symptoms of tinnitus, it’s difficult to describe how white noise sounds, as noises are perceived differently by different people. However, many describe white noise to be similar to the fuzzy, static sound that used to emit from televisions when there was no signal.
Do Hearing Aids Help with Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is almost always disruptive to everyday life, no matter the severity (and for some two million Americans, their symptoms sit at the most extreme end of the scale, and are outright debilitating). Hearing aids can help with Tinnitus, regardless as to severity, by:
- Amplifying the sounds you want to hear and masking the sounds you don’t
- Subtly amplifying background noise to reduce your awareness of tinnitus
- Helping you take part in conversations and social occasions without distraction by amplifying other peoples’ voices
- Overcoming your tinnitus symptoms so you can function and communicate in the work environment
- Some hearing aid models are equipped with white noise or artificial sounds to more effectively reduce 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.
What Is The Cost of Hearing Aids for Tinnitus?
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.
Should I Wear My Hearing Aid All Day?
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.
Can I Wear A Hearing Aid If I Am Sensitive To Sound (Hyperacusis)?
Patients with hyperacusis or other forms of sound sensitivity may find sound amplifying devices like hearing aids cause too much discomfort.
Do Hearing Aids Work Better For Younger vs. Older Patients?
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.