Even if you are not experiencing significant communication difficulties, you may have a hearing loss that you are unaware of. Even a mild hearing loss can lead to tinnitus in the ear.
While the specific mechanism causing tinnitus is unclear, tinnitus researchers agree that you are more likely to experience tinnitus if you also have a hearing loss. The damage to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear, whether it be caused by loud noise exposure, medications, or aging can lead to an increased likelihood of developing tinnitus.
The pitch of a person’s tinnitus is usually around the same frequency (or pitch) where there is the most hearing loss. If you have a high-frequency hearing loss, it is likely you hear a high-pitched (high-frequency) ringing or buzzing. It is thought that the brain is trying to “make up for” the fact that there is little acoustic stimulation at that pitch by producing it’s own sound.
Hearing Aids are not a “cure” for tinnitus, but they can help.
When you experience a loss of hearing, the hearing nerve and the brain is no longer receiving as much stimulation in the specific frequency range where you have the hearing loss.
For example, you may not hear birds chirping or pick up the “s” sound of speech if you experience a high-frequency hearing loss. When you begin to wear hearing aids, the amplification of the hearing aids will allow you to hear these sounds again, and in turn your hearing nerve and brain will receive the stimulation at those frequencies again.
That is why, in many cases, when someone has tinnitus and hearing loss and they “treat” their hearing loss with the use of hearing aids, they also notice a decline in the level or severity of their tinnitus.
With the hearing aids in, the hearing mechanism and brain is receiving more natural stimulation from environmental sounds and conversations. Even when in a quiet room, the hearing aid wearer will pick up sounds of their environment, such as the air conditioner hum or fan noise, that they likely did not hear without the hearing aids.
The ability to hear more natural environmental sounds provides a “masking” effect for the tinnitus. It allows the hearing aid wearer to hear what they are supposed to hear and helps to “cover up” the tinnitus.
In addition to traditional hearing aid use, the following are some specialized hearing aids that can go above and beyond to provide additional relief from tinnitus.
Widex Zen Therapy
Widex Zen therapy combines counseling, sound stimulation, amplification, and stress reduction. The hearing aid devices make use of the traditional amplification of the hearing aids, as well as Zen fractal tones.
Zen fractal tones are musical tones that sound similar to wind chimes. The goal of the Zen tones is to provide a pleasant acoustic stimulation that can reduce stress associated with the tinnitus. There are several sequences of Zen fractal tones to choose from, as well as a white noise stimulation that can be added to the signal to achieve more “masking” of the tinnitus. An Audiologist who is trained for Widex Zen Therapy will be repsonsible for fine-tuning the devices for your particular needs.
Starkey Xino Tinnitus
The Xino Tinnitus device, by Starkey, is a sound therapy hearing aid device that is used to mask or cover up your tinnitus, as well as take your focus off your tinnitus. The white noise sound stimulus is customizable by your hearing healthcare provider.
ReSound LiNX TS
A combination hearing aid and tinnitus therapy device which aims to “blend” your tinnitus into the background. The tinnitus sound generator in the device is a white noise signal that can be adjusted by a professional around a certain frequency based on the wearer’s preferences.
A volume control allows the wearer to adjust the level of the sound stimulus.
You can read more about the ReSound LiNX Tinnitus Relief app here.
Oticon Opn Tinnitus Sound Support
Hearing aids can be used as hearing aids alone, or a combination hearing aid and tinnitus therapy device. There are multiple therapy signals to choose from with Oticon Opn: white noise, pink noise, shaped noise, as well as 3 different ocean-type noises.
Your hearing healthcare professional can fine-tune these signals to your preferences. The purpose of the therapy signal is to divert attention away from the tinnitus, making it easier to focus on external sounds.
While there are slight variations in the therapy signal with these devices, the goal is essentially the same: provide amplification in the range where there is hearing loss, and reduce awareness of the tinnitus by delivering a pleasant and controlled sound stimulation to the ears. The result of using these devices can be relief from your tinnitus.
If you don’t believe a hearing aid is the right answer for your tinnitus, there are some smartphone apps you should definitely check out.