How Hearing Aids Can Help with Tinnitus
Tinnitus is known as a sensation of sound inside your head. It is usually referred to as “ringing in the ear” even though it can take many forms: ringing, buzzing, hissing, humming or even roaring.
Tinnitus is quite common: approximately 10-15% of the US population is affected by it. In many cases, it’s difficult to tell the exact cause of tinnitus, however, it is usually linked to age-related hearing loss, exposure to loud sounds, earwax blockage or some medications.
There’s a strong correlation between tinnitus and hearing loss. It is in fact believed that 80% of tinnitus sufferers also have hearing loss. Hearing aid manufacturers are aware of this strong correlation, and have spent significant effort in equipping hearing aids with features that can help relieve tinnitus in a number of ways.
If you have hearing loss and suffer from tinnitus, it’s possible that just by wearing hearing aids you’ll get instant, automatic relief. You wouldn’t be alone if this was your case, many tinnitus-affected hearing aid users have reported immediate benefits, and here is why.
The brain tries to overcompensate the lack of stimulation caused by hearing loss. So, when you begin wearing hearing aids, your brain stimulation increases which in turn may lead your brain to compensate less. Another benefit of wearing hearing aids is that they reduce fatigue and stress, so you’ll have extra energy to cope with your tinnitus.
If just wearing hearing aids alone won’t give you instant relief however, there are some specific tinnitus relief features, built into almost every hearing aid, that can help you further. Let’s explore them together:
- Sound Masking:Tinnitus-enabled hearing aids can be configured to constantly play a sound just over your hearing threshold, and just a little bit louder than your tinnitus. Two sounds that are commonly used in sound masking are white noise and a slightly smoother version of white noise called pink noise. The objective of sound masking is to distract your brain from the perceived sound of your tinnitus. You can do a quick experiment to get an idea of how masking works: open a tap in your house and let water run at full capacity. If you only hear the water, and not the ringing in your ears, chances are that sound masking could be for you.
- Custom Masking: Sound Masking can be customised so that it fits your unique tinnitus footprint. Your audiologist can play masking sounds at different loudness for different frequencies. By doing so, you can target only the frequencies that you need to address. Some people find that their tinnitus varies across the day. They find, for example, that it’s quieter during a day out at the office, but it becomes louder at night, in their quieter home. If this is your case, your audiologist can create a dedicated program that you can activate at night, when a louder version of your tinnitus kicks in.
- Sound Therapy: Most hearing aids have a companion app that comes with a selection of sounds that could give you extra tinnitus relief. Some examples of sounds that you could find in such apps are the sound of a campfire, soothing ocean waves or intense rain. If you’d like to give Sound Therapy a go, try the app called Tinnitus Balance by Phonak (iOS and Android) which also comes with a rating system, to help you rate which sounds work best for you. You can download it even if you don’t have Phonak hearing aids. Hopefully one of these sounds will help you sleep better at night.
How do you use hearing aids to relieve your tinnitus? Please share it in the comments!